The Next Generation Takes on Climate Change

This spring I turned 16 years old, and I’ve spent the last three years giving presentations to high school students about climate change. A few months ago, I gave a talk to 700 students at a high school in a very conservative community where a few of the teachers had threatened to picket and bring in their churches to protest. Early in the presentation, people were yelling, “Al Gore is a liar!” and most of the kids didn’t really care about what I had to say.

But guess what happened? I began talking about what’s going on with our planet, how the issue is bigger than just “global warming,” and how the ruling generation is making decisions that are detrimental to our survival. When I finished, over 500 kids signed up to be part of an action team. It didn’t matter what a bunch of adults had said—that day, these kids were ready to get involved and make their voices heard. Since then, they’ve been involved in projects to lower the carbon footprints of their school and homes. They are taking action.

I see this wherever I go. Despite surveys that say youth are caring less about world issues, I’ve seen that my entire generation can subliminally feel that there is a crisis, even though a lot of them don’t realize it yet. When I was 12, that’s how I was. Like so many kids, I went to school every day, goofed off in class, and cared only about leveling up in my favorite video games.

But then I saw An Inconvenient Truth, and my life was changed. I felt a deep calling to be a part of the solution.

I believe that all young people have this potential. We inherently know—perhaps without having words for it—that climate change is ultimately our crisis to solve. I think the reason is that we will be the ones who will suffer most if nothing is done now to break our addiction to fossil fuels. It’s hard for the ruling generation to care too much about climate change because it’s too distant and abstract and scientific. People don’t change unless they have to, and this is a “see it to believe it” society. Most of the ruling generation is not suffering yet.

Many of my generation aren’t suffering either. But even so, it is easier for us to imagine how different life will be for us than it was for our parents. We will be affected. Our generation will suffer. We are going to have to deal with the consequences of what the world does, or fails to do, now. And once young people hear that, particularly from one of their peers, something inside them clicks. They realize that our generation is being called to stop global warming within our lifetime. No matter how impossible that may seem, we were born to do this.

Young people are already taking action. High school students from the Academy of Automotive and Mechanical Engineering in West Philadelphia recently built a hybrid car that is in the running for the Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE, a $10 million international competition to build high-quality cars that get over 100 miles per gallon. Hundreds of students throughout California have been rallying to support a bill that would ban the distribution of plastic bags in the state’s supermarkets; the bill was recently approved by the State Assembly. Since I wrote a “Declaration of Independence from Fossil Fuels” in November 2009, over 50,000 kids have signed it. We really do care about our future. We are already taking action.

All young people have the potential to create solutions like this. It’s going to take a revolution: we need to change the mindset of every person living on this planet. It’s a huge challenge, but I believe we, as a generation, are up to the challenge. We are planning a “million kid march” for Mother’s Day 2011 called the iMatter March, organized by young people in every city in the U.S. and around the world. We hope to awaken the world to the reality that not only must we make these changes now, but we are already involved in the transition to a sustainable and just society.

What other choices do we have? It begins with changing our own lifestyles and influencing the ruling generation to make decisions that place as much value on the needs of nature and of future generations as on our short-term interests.

This is our revolution—so let’s make it happen.