It’s a crazy time to be a teen.
President Trump just announced that the US is withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement. But that is only one of the many actions his administration has taken to give a proverbial middle finger to all young generations, who will suffer the devastating impacts of climate change.
Today's teenagers are growing up at a time where everything generations before us took for granted-- clean air, potable water, and life as we know it-- are on the verge of destruction. Teenagers, or “Generation Z” as we’re sometimes called, are growing up during a time where our future is more uncertain than it was for any generation before us.
And among our internet surfing, Snapchat-addicted populace, are warriors. Many of today’s teenagers are defying stereotypes, fighting tooth and nail for our futures. Some teenagers are more civically active in one month than most adults are in a lifetime.
I am one of them.
Some of us are bravely tackling one of the most massive issues humanity has ever faced-- climate change-- while the leaders who are supposed to be doing it for us move backward, backing out of agreements, and buddying up with petroleum industries to destroy the futures of their own children.
Take for example activist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez. He just turned 17. But by age 12, he had already organized more than 35 protests and rallies for environmental justice. President Obama gave him a national community service award in 2013 and as of today, Xiuhtezcatl has spoken at the United Nations three times, on behalf of our earth, and our entire generation, whose future is currently under assault by our own parents. Xiuhtezcatl is also a part of a lawsuit, along with 21 other youth plaintiffs, who are suing the federal government over denying our generation’s constitutional rights to life and a healthy environment. He’s gone on several speaking tours, using his words and the music he writes about the climate crisis to engage and inspire other youth to take action.
The President could learn a thing or two from him.
My friend 16-year-old Anne Lee, who co-founded a program that successfully lowered her school’s carbon footprint, and that of schools all over the state is better helping to safeguard the future than every single Trump Administration official combined.
Then there’s Chiara Rose D’Angelo, who, when she was 19 years old, stayed in the branches of a tree for over three days to stall a mall project that would decimate a forest. At 20, she chained herself to the Anchor of a giant oil ship that was staying in a Washington State port, The Arctic Challenger, for three whole days, to stop it from leaving to go drill oil in the Arctic.
Right now, leaders like Paul Ryan and Mitch Mcconnell, who are supposed to be an example for young people, are not showing even a shred of the courage Chiara has shown.
And then, there’s me. Now 15-years-old, I take multiple trips a year to my state capitol to lobby my representatives and testify at bill hearings, in hopes that climate-fighting policies are passed. I spend every free hour I have attending community organizing meetings, writing Op-Eds, and putting together civic action projects to combat the climate crisis.
I am not alone.
But in the end, whether or not my generation inherits a livable planet relies on our leaders to actually listen to us youth activists, instead of giving us a “good work” pat on the head and then continuing to let the climate crisis get worse. We young change-makers can’t save our futures alone. We don’t make the laws. And that’s why we need our leaders to genuinely support us by taking concrete action to save our futures. Even if the current administration is exiting deals and taking strides backwards in fighting climate change, representatives in other branches of government, like the Congress and Senate, need to step up for young people’s futures.
When you think of a modern day teenager, what comes to mind?
Do you imagine a shallow, selfish, apathetic young person with their eyes glued to their cell phones?
Well, if so, you’re wrong. That’s not the full story.
We have to worry about things our parents never had to, like if the natural wonders and animals we love will still be around for us to share with our own children. We have to worry about concerns so basic that no one should ever have to even think about them, like whether the air we will breathe as adults will be clean, or whether our water will be free of toxins that make us sick. And because most of us can’t vote, we teenagers have no say in the destruction that is happening to our planet.
We had no say in electing our politicians, who instead of working to safeguard our futures, are pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement, defunding the EPA, slashing environmental regulations left and right, and are pretty much ready to sell America’s national parks to the highest bidder.
In fact, many of today’s teenagers are setting examples for our leaders, instead of vice versa.
Youth activists need our leaders to learn from us.