climate change

Climate change is–and is going to be–the defining issue of the millennial generation.

Recent flooding in Louisiana prove how existential and imminent the threat of climate change truly is. No group of people, perhaps, is more aware of the need to fight against human-induced climate change than the millennial generation… and we can’t afford to stay silent any longer.

In August 2016, Southern Louisiana witnessed what Governor John Bel Edwards has described as a historic, unprecedented flooding event” when prolonged rainfall, brought forth by both a low-pressure weather system and a record level of atmospheric water vapor, filled the streets and caused bodies of water such as the Amite and Comite rivers to overflow. The effects of the largest American national disaster since Hurricane Sandy in 2012 have been, to say the least, absolutely devastating. Thirteen casualties have been reported in areas affected by the flood. 265,000 children have been taken out of school since the beginning of the flooding. Many homeowners who were affected by the disaster, living in low-risk areas that wouldn’t have expected to see such devastation, lacked flood insurance. This event, however, can’t be understood completely without analyzing the conditions that allowed for it to occur in the first place.

Such Tragedy Has Been Caused by Man’s Actions (and Inactions)

We have seen, in recent decades, the devastating effects of a rapidly changing climate. As human activity, such as coal production and the clearing of land, leads seemingly inevitably towards an increase in the emission of so-called “greenhouse gases” such as water vapor, methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide, the heartbreaking effects have become clearer and clearer. Average temperatures have increased dramatically, levels of evaporation and precipitation have become less predictable, sea levels have risen due the melting of glaciers and the changes in temperature, and crop production patterns have been altered. What many fail to acknowledge, though, is that the effects of human-induced climate change can be seen in the conditions that led to the tragic flooding of Louisiana.

Bob Henson and Jeff Masters, climate experts currently working for Weather Underground, note the relation, writing that “climate change has already been shown to increase the amounts of rain falling in the most intense events across many parts of the world, and extreme rainfall events like this week’s Louisiana storm are expected [to] grow increasingly common in the coming years.” Along with the aforementioned effects of changes in climate caused directly by human activity, a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences points out that a recent sharp increase in levels of atmospheric moisture is a “relatively direct consequence” of human activity, spurned in part by an increase in carbon dioxide caused by the burning of fossil fuels. As the atmosphere grows more moist in some parts of the world, rainfall inevitably becomes heavier. This has been demonstrated by studies such as one conducted by the National Climate Assessment in 2014, which noted that there was a 27% increase in the amount of precipitation in heavy events between 1958 and 2012 in the American South.

We Can’t Trust Politicians to Act on our Behalf

What brought us to this point of seemingly no return? Frankly, our politicians on both sides of the aisle have pursued reckless policies that threaten the stability of our climate regardless of the consequence–and my generation recognizes that. On the one hand, Republican politicians have painted climate change as a malevolent conspiracy peddled by the left to secure control over the economy. For example, Bobby Jindal, former Republican governor of Louisiana, told members of the Heritage Foundation in 2014 that climate change is a “simply a trojan horse” to enable increased government regulation of business. “It’s an excuse for the government to come in and try to tell us what kind of homes we live in, what kind of cars we drive, what kind of lifestyles we can enjoy,” Jindal said. “It’s an excuse for some who never liked free-market economies, who never liked rapid economic growth.”

On the other side of the aisle, Democrats have taken some measures to limit corporate abuse of our environment while often going back on their word and pushing for the implementation of policies such as the Keystone XL pipeline and the Trans-Pacific Partnership that critics fear could threaten our climate. This two-facedness is perhaps most recently exhibited by presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s appointment of Ken Salazar, former Secretary of the Interior and well-known hydraulic fracturing supporter whom David Sirota of International Business Times referred to as “somebody who is very close to the oil and gas industry, and somebody who has been a big defender of fracking, in the face of evidence that there are reasons to be concerned about the environmental and public health effects of that process,” as chair of her presidential transition team. With two camps who care more about quibbling on a partisan level and profiting on a personal level than they do addressing the existential threat of climate change and working towards meaningful solutions, it should be no surprise that such devastation as that which occurred in Louisiana has become more frequent in recent years and will undoubtedly continue well into the future so long as we continue to remain silent.

Climate Change Will Define Millennial Activism

Climate change is–and is going to be–the defining issue of the millennial generation. We, as millennials, see climate activism, as noted by Ben Link of the Millennial Action Project, less as a specific policy issue and more as a value that should be used to inform policy decisions. The statistics are crystal clear. 80% of us support plans believe that we need to transition to mostly clean or renewable energy by 2030. 74% of us say that we’re more likely to support a presidential candidate with a plan to tackle climate change. We are 57% more likely to vote for a candidate who supports cutting coal use and 43% more likely to vote for a candidate who supports imposing a carbon tax on the burning of fossil fuels. We, in short, overwhelmingly support altering the existing system to address valid concerns about the environment.

We Fight Because We Fear For Our Future

It should be no surprise why millennial activists have stood up to both corporate and political powers and have filed lawsuits, attended diplomatic conferences, and organized rallies all in the name of bringing awareness to the devastating effects of human activity on our environment. We, as millennials and as activists, are tired of watching our futures being risked so that politicians can line their pockets with donations from the ever-profiting fossil fuel industry.  The devastating effects of human-induced climate change aren’t distant hypothetical outcomes; as evidenced by Louisiana, such effects are already here. When we imagine our future, we begin to fear a world where major coastal cities begin to erode and eventually disappear due to flooding; where food supplies are threatened by unpredictable patterns; and where populations are displaced and inequalities are exacerbated due to an inability for communities in some parts of the world to adapt to these dramatic changes.

The Time to Rise Up is Now  

We have seen young people begin to step up onto the public stage to demand systemic change that will allow for a sustainable future. Millennials have organized marches in America’s biggest cities to draw attention to the existential crisis that is climate change. Students have led movements that have pressured major corporations into divesting completely from fossil fuels. We, too, have placed time and energy into influencing the process that allows for change on the level of policy. Notably, at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, young people congregated with other activists, politicians, and scientists as members of delegations and as NGO representatives to demonstrate a deep desire to innovate how we’re looking at the issue of climate change. Brianna Fruean, a 17-year-old delegate from the island nation of American Samoa, summed up the feelings of the millennial generation during a panel discussion with one simple answer: “We can’t wait for another meeting that leads to another meeting. We have to act now.”

We, as millennials, as activists, and as champions for an environmentally conscious approach to policy and industry, have seen the devastating effects of climate change. We have seen more droughts and more heatwaves than any generation before us. We have witnessed the unpredictability of recent precipitation patterns. We have noticed sea levels rise and coastlines shrink. We have mourned the damage caused by natural disasters such as the Louisiana floods. Unlike many of those before us, though, we realize that we can’t simply wait and expect our lawmakers to quickly, honestly, and efficiently work to solve the problems presented by climate change while working to place limits on human activities that have been proven to cause it without organizing to collectively place pressure on them to act in our best interests. We are fully aware that crises like the flooding in Louisiana will only become more frequent and more harmful if left unattended. As members of an environmentally conscious, educated, organized, and interconnected generation, though, we have a responsibility to act, to organize, to agitate, and to educate. In the words of teen activist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, “humans have created the greatest problem we face today, but the greater the challenge the higher we will rise to meet it.” If any segment of society is inspired enough, educated enough, prepared enough, and pissed off enough to effectively work towards meaningful change on the systemic level to put an end to climate change and its disastrous effects, it is Generation Y.

Jake Tibbetts is a Yale Young Global Scholar 2016. He is an avid political organizer in his community, serving as an organizer on multiple state legislative campaigns.

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