Youth Climate Activists Hit Hard By Crisis and Critics
As the danger of climate change becomes more and more palpable, young people around the world are raising their voices to discuss all types of political and social issues, especially those affecting the climate. These adolescents have grown up watching videos of polar bears balancing on disintegrating icebergs and can name more than their fair share of hurricanes and other natural disasters. Young people have sufficient knowledge gained from school and the internet to see for themselves the benefits of a green environment.
Now, they are taking on the responsibility of spreading this message to political leaders.
16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg has attracted widespread media attention for her motivational speech at the New York City Youth Climate Strike and her heartfelt address to the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 24. Thunberg’s activism is distinguished by her fierce accusations against current leaders.
“People are dying; entire ecosystems are collapsing… all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth,” she said at the UN. “How dare you!”
Thunberg’s speech drew immediate backlash from conservative politicians and television pundits alike. President Trump took to Twitter that same evening and mocked Thunberg’s grave tone: “She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!”
Fox News commentator Michael Knowles called Thunberg mentally ill, while host Laura Ingraham compared the UN General Assembly speech with a clip from “Children of the Corn,” a movie about a religious cult.
A youth activist from an unexpected background is 21-year-old Wisconsin native Benji Backer. He identifies as a member of the GOP and hopes to destigmatize the assumption that his political party unanimously denies climate change.
At the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis on September 18, Backer explained his recognition of climate change and that all human beings will suffer from its effects.
“The health of the environment affects all of us, regardless of where we live, our background or political affiliation,” he said.
Despite Becker’s amicable bipartisan efforts, the chair of the event, Florida Democratic Representative Kathy Castor came under fire after subsequently tweeting a picture of the youth activists, as well as tagging their Twitter handles, both of which excluded Backer. Representative Castor’s office denies such allegations.
Youth climate activists have come under attack for their speech. But environmentalist Bill McKibben says it best: “they can’t attack the science; that seems undeniable.”