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.
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.
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.