As the Arctic melts, oceans acidify, storms intensify and crops wither in drought-stricken areas of the globe, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the dire consequences of climate change. Faced with the onslaught of polluter cash that line the pockets of politicians and smear the findings of climate scientists, who can we turn to push us in the right direction? How will we move toward a clean energy economy -- and away from the dirty mix of fossil fuels driving us off the climate cliff?
The youth of the world may be our salvation, or at least a big part of the solution. That’s what dozens of students, environmental activists and labor leaders discussed at the Youth Climate Caucus recently in Washington, part of the Good Jobs Green Jobs Conference sponsored by the BlueGreen Alliance, NRDC and a host of other labor, business and environmental organizations. As my colleague Rob Friedman explains in his blog, it’s high time that we reach out to young people to play a bigger role in solving our rapidly worsening climate crisis -- a future they will inherit with even more at stake.
There is widespread recognition across the progressive movement that we need to make a more concerted effort to get young people to the table on a variety of issues related to climate policy and economic resilience. Despite the fact that our generation is the one for which climate change will have the greatest impact, we are rarely engaged in discussions concerning these very important issues. That is for a variety of reasons, including a perception that we lack the necessary knowledge or experience. It is essential that we build space and create opportunities for young people to gather and learn from each other as we build a more just and sustainable energy sector.
Watch this video about the Youth Climate Caucus meeting in Washington.
Young environmental leaders bring much needed energy and optimism to a deadly serious and complex issue that has political leaders throughout the world tied up in knots. Jobs and environmental advocacy can go together hand in hand, they all say, but young people need more opportunities to learn the skills that can lead to greater jobs in the growing clean energy sector.
“I think we’re really poised to jump on this movement, especially from an economic perspective,” said David Meni, with the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network and a student at George Washington University. “If we’re going to have a green economy, that’s got to be driven by technology, that should really be driven by discoveries that are made here and that should really be made by students who are educated here.”
Everyone who attended the day-long session stressed the importance of making their voices heard. Kwanesha Love, a DC high school student and a member of the Alliance for Climate Education, put it this way:
“I feel as though the youth has a voice, and the youth should be able to use their voice and understand that they can help fix the problem that we’re going through now with climate change and pollution and make the world a better place for our future generations.”
This is the kind of attitude and enthusiasm sorely needed to solve the world’s most vexing environmental problems. The truth is, clean energy jobs are growing in virtually every sector of the economy. Just check out this interactive job-tracking website from Clean Energy Works For US , sponsored by Environmental Entrepreneurs, and see for yourself (click on the map to get up-to-date job info).
Participants at the Youth Climate Caucus Photo: Rocky Kistner/NRDC
These are the kinds of jobs many young people want: rewarding work in a fast-growing industry that’s good for the economy and good for our health and environment. Young folks increasingly say that for the sake of their future, there isn’t any other choice.
Their voices deserve to be heard.