The climate strike was just the beginning for Gen Z. Here’s what comes next for us.

Young people gather for the climate change rally in New York City on Sept. 20. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)Young people gather for the climate change rally in New York City on Sept. 20. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

It has fallen to our generation to preserve our fundamental right to life. But who are we? Generation Z is roughly designated as anyone born from 1997 to 2010.We are defined by an age of terror attacks, government disregard of privacy and the longest war in United States history. But we also grew up with the first black president and have led the March For Our Lives Movement. Most important, we comprehend that climate change requires immediate action.

Fossil fuel companies have blocked climate action and sowed doubt in order to maintain their status quo. By not acting, we play into their hands, preserving their reality. They do not care about you and me, but they do care about their profits. Oil and gas companies have spent over $2 billion lobbying since 1998. Already in 2019, they have spent over $62 million.

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But the fossil fuel industry is a part of something bigger. We live in a consumer economy and a culture that places our value on how much stuff we purchase. The focus is to extract, buy and throw away. This economy and culture have been driving forces in the most detrimental effects of climate change.

We live in a consumer economy and a culture that places our value on how much stuff we purchase. The focus is to extract, buy and throw away.

We must switch from a throwaway culture to one focused on community. By completely altering our economic, political and social institutions, we can work together in communion with the natural world, whose dependence on which we are too scared to acknowledge. We can overcome ourselves to ensure everyone’s right to a dignified life.

“Laudato Si’” explains the deep connectivity between humans and the environment. This is similar to the Jesuit ideals of cura personalis—the development and education of the entire body. Since climate change has widespread effects, the solutions must target the entire body of our society and the Earth. We meet God through the sacrament of nature and have entered into a covenant with Him to be stewards. We have been given special dignity and the power of self-awareness to be the conscience and heart of the natural world. This requires living with each other in a “reduce, reuse, repair” society instead of a “make, take, waste” one.

A month ago, I would have told you that I cared about climate change, but that there are too many deniers to act, somehow excusing myself. However, once I learned about the organizations and strikes led by those younger than me, all excuses were washed away. Now I have a purpose to create a livable legacy, and the hope that we will do it.

We are living in the moment, celebrating life by fighting for it. We join in the hope, joy and purpose of dedicating our actions to a greater good. Although we are never satisfied, we relish the pure vitality of fighting for our lives.

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We must act with conviction, unafraid of the urgency of our choices and the ferocity to make radical ones. We strike because widespread nonviolent movements truly do have the power to enact change. On the first Earth Day in 1970, 20 million people recognized the fragility and beauty of this planet, so they took to the streets. We must continue to add our voices to the clamor for change.

The power of mass nonviolent demonstrations is seen from a great distance. It is not about a single day and a single march. It is the continuous fight of millions of people. Erica Chenoweth, a researcher at Harvard, studied over 300 mass movements and concluded that it only takes 3.5 percent of the population, consistently active in protests, to force tangible political change. (Generation Z comprises 27 percent of the U.S. population.) That means we need 11 million people in the streets by 2020 to force government action. This Sept. 20, we carried out a general strike. In November we will strike again, and on Earth Day we will strike in even greater numbers than before.

In November we will strike again, and on Earth Day we will strike in even greater numbers than before.

You must not only show up to demonstrations but also bring your excitement, hope and vigor to your communities and organize. In the United States, we organized into labor unions in order to outlaw child labor and bring about the 40-hour work week. We organized into the civil rights and women’s movements, even if we still have farther to go. So organize your own demonstrations, prayer services and political actions. Create a visible presence to encourage even more people to act.

Lastly, many of us will be able to vote for the first time in 2020. Besides public demonstrations and economic choices, the vote is our third tool in telling those in power what we need. Go vote for the leaders who understand the urgency we face, and the scope of change needed. Get your friends to vote who normally “don’t do politics.”

One tangible policy to vote for is the Green New Deal. The Green New Deal is a plan to tackle climate change and inequality by creating millions of high paying jobs in clean energy industries. Scientists tell us that by 2050 the world needs to have net zero emissions. This involves: converting to all renewable energy sources, digitizing our power grid, upgrading each building to be energy efficient, creating a zero-emission transportation system and creating sustainable communities built around local resources. The Green New Deal will ensure a just transition through job training and employment opportunities in these sectors, especially to those who rely on jobs in the fossil fuel industry. By investing in people and our communities, our country can build an efficient and sustainable economy. By supporting our weakest members, we thrive. Gen Z will not be the last generation. We are generation Green New Deal.

It is through your one on one interactions where you inspire. By explaining the real, tangible urgency of climate change to your communities, they, in turn, will spread the message of action and hope. This is a cultural shift and we must continue to enact and speed it up because we have run out of time. So, smile—you are informed, passionate, young leaders of this world. And cry “zero!”: zero emissions, zero excuses and zero time to waste.

John Placette
2 weeks ago

I graduated from high school in 1976. In the years leading up to 1976, we were told repeatedly: There are too many people on Earth! We must practice birth control!, There must be abortions!. There is not enough farmland to sustain the people!, If we don't do something immediately, we will all perish!
We were lied to then and Generation Z is being lied to today.

Technology is the key to keeping the world clean. The United States is the leader in developing systems that protect the environment and will do so in the future.

Don't let the Chicken Littles of the world lead you down the path they want you to go.

I do love your passion, but be intelligent in your discernment.

J Cosgrove
2 weeks ago

The author should find out both sides of the argument. It is portrayed by many as a case of black vs. white. It is not.

The author might want to investigate all the false predictions over the last 50 years about the environment and resources. Also the first Earth Day was not about Climate change or global warming but about pollution.

J Cosgrove
2 weeks ago

My understanding of the issues:
Q1 Has there been warming?
Q2 If so, how much?
Q3 If so, what is the cause?
Q4 If so, how dangerous?
Q4a What are the positives?
Q5 What can be done to affect the dangerous aspects?
Q6 Will other countries comply?

El Consilia
2 weeks ago

“Laudato Si’” was presented to the world in May 2015. Our Holy Father sees the serious danger to all of creation and has called for a profound conversion. I wonder how many Catholic dioceses, parishes, schools have led the efforts to share this important prophetic encyclical with their members? Are the shepherds just letting the sheep feed themselves? Are they ignoring the purpose for which their role exists..."Feed My Sheep", lest they starve.

Andrew Strada
1 week 6 days ago

In a rational universe, things like indoor plumbing, central heating, electricity, cars would be seen as good things. Does young Master Campion walk to school or ride his bike? How is Gonzaga heated in winter and cooled in summer? It is due mainly to modern technology that people in the Washington area aren't dropping dead from malaria, typhoid fever or cholera.

Stanley Kopacz
1 week 5 days ago

Perhaps the neoliberal dream of eliminating Medicare, if realized, might go a long way toward removing one great obstacle to society addressing climate change. That great obstacle is the bloc of old voters smug and warm in their own self interest and caring nothing of future generations. Their aging brains find conspiracy theories and pseudo-science satisfactory for reaching the most comfortable conclusions, i.e., we don't have to make any sacrifices, technology is Our Saviour, maybe it'll be better. Easy for them to say because they won't have to live in it when it gets really bad. The lesson for Gen Z is "old people are not your friends" and don't look for wisdom from them. You'll only find whizzdumb.

Michael Bindner
1 week 5 days ago

Capitalism is always the enemy of community action. It won't even let us cap flood insurance for beach homes, giving the rich a stake in the game.

Joseph J Dunn
1 week 4 days ago

Mr. Campion was on the right track when he wrote, "We live in a consumer economy." That has implications. Gen Z might be able to reduce carbon emissions, if that is their goal, but the decisions they make in future years at the auto dealership, when replacing the worn-out furnace in their home, etc., will have far more impact than any demonstrations they attend. Currently Ford Motor Company is focusing on manufacturing pick-ups and large SUVs. GM is closing a plant and laying off or reassigning 14,000 workers who produce small autos. Both companies are responding to customer preferences as measured by actual sales. No sense making small cars, including electric cars, if the public is buying gas-guzzlers. In a consumer economy, every dollar of corporate profit comes from the pocket of a customer. If Gen Zers want to change this country's carbon emissions, they will have to do it by making different choices as customers. Research shows that elected officials respond to the wishes of the median voter in their district, state, etc, not the noisiest protester, who often does not vote.

Stanley Kopacz
1 week 4 days ago

Consumer choice is only one component. Automakers changed the game independently of consumer choice by buying and dismantling public rail transportation. The federal government under Eisenhower built an interstate highway system from scratch. Meanwhile, consumer choice, anything but logical, as Edward Bernays knew, was molded to buy giant-finned monstrosities. If consumer choice is the demigod on which we depend for halting climate change, prepare for gigadeath.

Alan Johnstone
1 week 4 days ago

No, this youth has been terribly misled but is not blameworthy.

The Franciscans have failed to make it clear to him that he is one of a kind, an unique individual whose course in this life and ultimate fate is as himself and not as a member of any class, sex, racial group or faith persuasion.
He will eventually be judged on his choices in the same way as all the rest of us regardless of date of birth.

I take him back to just one mass movement to give him some perspective.
"Crucify him! Crucify Him. Give us Barabbas!"

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