Progressive Christian Social Action
Youth-Led Climate Campaigns
I often walk along a canal in the woods near my home. One day, while walking there with my teenage granddaughters and two of their friends, our talk turned from light-hearted banter to the state of the planet. Sixteen-year-old Darren said, “When I think of the future, it’s hard to be optimistic… The media feeds you a lot of negativity.” We all walked silently as his words sunk in. The other kids seemed to agree with him. I agreed with him. But hope is different than optimism, so I shared a few words of comfort and hope.
While we need to take the warnings of climate scientists seriously, being stuck in powerlessness and despair doesn’t help. There are actions we can take that not only make us feel more hopeful, but that improve prospects for the future and make the world a more hopeful place. And in many cases, young people are leading the way, making clear the extremity of our situation and showing us that we need to treat climate change as the emergency that it is.
Two months after the walk I took with the young people along the canal, several of these teens, including Darren, attended a climate change agents’ camp organized by Full Circle Learning, a locally-based international nonprofit that has worked in thirty countries to equip children and youth to become agents of change. At the camp they learned about mitigating climate change by reducing their carbon footprints, adapting to climate change by becoming resilient and helping build resilient communities, educating others, and acting in solidarity with people who are suffering immediate harm caused by climate change in vulnerable countries.
I later asked Darren how the climate change agents’ camp had impacted him. He said it had helped him in several ways. He acknowledged that the media does show some positive stories of people working to bring about change, but that “it’s more believable to be among people who are actually working for change.” He also spoke of hope: “It helped to be with people living, eating, and sleeping together while working toward the common goal of conserving the world. Sharing the same passion gives me a sense of hope and obligation to act upon that hope.” He added, “It gives me a sense of security to know we have the support of our prior generations. It helps to know we have someone older than us backing us up.”
This is a time of global turmoil and great challenge. Young people are taking action on climate change around the world, and in many cases leading the way, but we need to back them up. Tomorrow night I will be giving a presentation at the Madelyn Helling Library on the following youth-led campaigns:
Juliana vs. the United States is an ongoing high-stakes lawsuit in which 21 young people, supported by Our Children’s Trust, are suing the federal government for violating their rights to life, liberty, and property by knowingly enacting policies that cause climate change. The lawsuit was filed in 2015 by a group of young people who claim a constitutional right to “a climate system capable of sustaining human life” and charge that the US government is violating that right through policies that promote climate change. They are calling on the court to order the federal government to enact and implement a “National Climate Recovery Plan” that would restore atmospheric levels of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) to 350 parts per million, stabilize the climate, and de-acidify the oceans. Both the Obama and Trump administrations have tried to have this case dismissed, but judges have refused to do so. The court has already ruled that the plaintiffs have “the right to a climate system capable of supporting human life,” that “air, running water, sea, and the seashore” are public trust assets, and that the government “has failed to protect them.” The court has also ruled that this case will not be about whether climate change is real or human-caused because “the science is undisputed.” Some have called this “the trial of the century.”
Fossil Fuel Divestment: The campaign to get institutions to divest from fossil fuels emerged in 2010 on US college and university campuses, with students urging their administrations to turn their investments in the fossil fuel industry into investments in clean energy and communities most impacted by climate change. In 2012, 350.org launched their Go Fossil Free Campaign, which calls on colleges, universities, cities, religious institutions, and pension funds to withdraw their investments from fossil fuel companies. To date, $11 trillion has been divested from coal, oil, and gas 350.org makes clear that climate change is a moral issue and explains that “It’s wrong to profit from wrecking the planet.” Campaigns for institutional divestment are active and growing around the world. Colleges and universities continue to lead the way.
The Sunrise Movement is a multi-race grassroots movement of young people (ages 13 to 35) who have been training leaders and organizing locally and globally since 2017. Sunrise has been a central force in developing and lobbying for a Green New Deal. In the 2018 national election, the Sunrise Movement endorsed 30 candidates. Nineteen of them were elected. The Sunrise Movement advocated for a Democratic debate on climate change; their actions resulted in a town hall with the leading candidates. They recently endorsed their first congressional candidate for 2020, Audrey Denny, who is running against Representative Doug La Malfa in the First Congressional District. The Sunrise Movement website says, “We are not looking to the right or left. We look forward. Together we will change this country and this world, sure as the sun rises each morning.”
The Last Chance Alliance is a California climate justice alliance that includes hundreds of organizations. Many of its leaders are young people whose communities are being negatively impacted by fossil fuel extraction, transport, and processing. They are calling on Governor Newsom to stop issuing oil and gas permits altogether and to institute 2500 foot-setbacks from oil and gas wells for schools and residential areas. In September 2018, “Brown’s Last Chance” demonstrations outside the Global Action Climate Summit in San Francisco focused on the same goals. These demonstrations included cooperation between indigenous people from as far away as the Amazon and young people from impacted communities, including those who live in Richmond near the Chevron refinery and in Kern County near fracking operations. They call on California’s governor and legislators to abandon false solutions and to work toward an immediate, just, and effective transition away from fossil fuels.
Extinction Rebellion Youth is a “network for everyone born after 1990.” It is aligned with the larger Extinction Rebellion Movement. “We are a generation that has never known a stable climate and that will be defined by how the world responds to the climate and ecological crisis.” They call for nonviolent direct action to amplify the voices of people calling for structural change in order to persuade governments to take strong action on climate change.
The Global Climate Strike, scheduled for September 20-27 2019, is an outgrowth of Fridays for Future, a global youth movement that was started by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg. Greta started going on strike from school every Friday to highlight the climate emergency. She asks, “Why study for a future that may not be there?” Friday for Future strikes have caught on; varied actions have taken place in countries around the world. Now Greta and other climate strikers are calling for people of all ages to show support for them by participating in a Global Climate Strike. People have responded by organizing strikes, demonstrations, and other actions in 150 countries. It is expected to be the largest global climate action ever.
Young people around the world are rising to the challenges posed by climate change. They are:
- Educating themselves and others, acting to build resilient communities, and reaching out to those who are suffering first and worst from climate change
- Filing court cases claiming their fundamental right to a stable climate
- Calling on institutions to divest from fossil fuels
- Advocating for a Green New Deal
- Engaging in solidarity actions with young people in indigenous and other vulnerable communities
- Calling on leaders to make systemic changes in order to create climate solutions that will really work.
Our action or our inaction will impact not only today’s children and youth, but generations into the distant future. What are we willing to do to offer our youth a hopeful future through our actions? How well are we backing them up?
Websites Related to Youth Actions for the Climate:
Our Children’s Trust, with Juliana vs. The United States: https://www.ourchildrenstrust.org/. This website also includes the 60 Minutes program: The Climate Change Lawsuit that Could Stop the US Government from Supporting Fossil Fuels.
The Sunrise Movement: https://www.sunrisemovement.org/
“Sunrise Movement, the Force Behind the Green New Deal, Ramps Up Plans for 2020,” in Rolling Stone: https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/sunrise-movement-green-new-deal-2020-828766/
Go Fossil Free, an overview of colleges and universities that have ongoing campaigns or have divested: https://campaigns.gofossilfree.org/efforts/fossil-fuel-divestment-colleges-universities.
Institutions divested from fossil fuels: https://gofossilfree.org/divestment/commitments/
College and University campaigns: campaigns.gofossilfree.org/efforts/fossil-fuel-divestment-colleges-universities. Over $11 trillion divested: https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/09/09/people-power-winning-fossil-fuel-divestment-movement-celebrates-11-trillion
Last Chance Alliance: https://lastchancealliance.org/
Read the stories of impacted communities: https://lastchancealliance.org/stories/
Extinction Rebellion Youth: https://www.xryouth.org/about
Global Climate Strike: https://globalclimatestrike.net/
Fridays for Future: https://www.fridaysforfuture.org/
Naomi Klein interviews Greta Thunberg, with presentations by other youth, including plaintiffs in the lawsuit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vw58ckJdDmI&fbclid=IwAR2f-9I9p7R2pNI477YnXXaocKI-Tn1WbIMnSYXYSeBCS0JD6Ea3zyDCv9s
“A Message from the Future” video, with Alexandria Octavio Cortez: https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=a+future%2c+AOC&&view=detail&mid=65A1D4302730C5C9935B65A1D4302730C5C9935B&&FORM=VDRVRV
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Other blog postings about climate change can be found here.