Teenager Sydney Sauer does not fit the stereotype that many say describes her generation — “lazy, self-absorbed, and inactive in the political discussion [of climate change]”:
Our country’s leaders have a problem, and it’s called apathy.
There is no such thing as a “climate change denier” — only a person who doesn’t understand the problem enough to care. Climate change is happening, and it’s our cars, our cows, and our factories that are warming the earth and slowly bringing disaster. Which is why it makes me so upset that such a large number of our politicians consistently deny climate change and promote irresponsible corporate actions.
I’m a 16-year-old from Cincinnati. “Climate change” was always a term I heard people toss around, but I didn’t think much of it until freshman year when my debate team was assigned the topic of carbon taxes. I was practically forced into doing hours of research on climate change, and as I became aware of the devastating consequences that are just on the horizon, I became passionate about protecting future generations from the mess we created. And I got really angry at our politicians for their consistent inaction.
It’s not just cow farts that are making climate change an existential threat to humanity. It’s old farts in Congress (“the average senator is 62 years old, and the average House member is 57”) who stand in the way of aggressive action to solve the problem. (For what it’s worth, I’d also observe that in addition to being old and weathered, most of our leaders are male, white, and wealthy.)
The people who lead our country won’t be alive 60 years from now to reap the consequences of their actions. It’s much easier to improve areas that they can measure and use for reelection, like unemployment and health care. Environmental issues, on the other hand, pose a measure of success that they won’t be able to experience or quantify. And because of this, when forced to choose between funding an oil pipeline and cutting back on fossil fuels, the majority of our current leaders would choose the environmentally detrimental option for the sake of jobs and industry.
The effects of these decisions will be costly for my generation and those who come after. NASA predicts that by 2090, when my grandkids are in high school, the entire southwestern region of the United States could be stuck in a 35-year megadrought that causes a massive famine. If greenhouse gas emissions stop increasing by the middle of the century, the likelihood of this devastation is 60 percent. If we continue down our current path of nonrenewable energy, the likelihood rises to 80 percent.
Other areas of the world will have the opposite problem. In my lifetime, sea levels are expected to rise anywhere from 3 feet to 20 feet due to melting icecaps spurred on by the greenhouse effect. Best-case scenario, this wipes out most of the East Coast of the United States. Worst-case scenario, London — and everything below it — is entirely submerged.
Best-case scenarios populate the findings in the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) and the rationale for the benchmarks that exist in the 2015 Paris Climate Accord. Worst-case scenarios — the ones that take into account important positive feedback loops (like decreased reflectiveness or albedo resulting from melting polar snow and ice, and thawing arctic permafrost releasing methane due to higher temperatures) and realities that humankind is not yet ready to jettison fossil fuels to generate energy, which is a necessity in order to control this runaway carbon train — form the basis of David Wallace-Wells’ compelling argument in the current issue of New York Magazine that things will get worse in Sydney Sauer’s lifetime. Much worse:
It is, I promise, worse than you think. If your anxiety about global warming is dominated by fears of sea-level rise, you are barely scratching the surface of what terrors are possible, even within the lifetime of a teenager today. And yet the swelling seas — and the cities they will drown — have so dominated the picture of global warming, and so overwhelmed our capacity for climate panic, that they have occluded our perception of other threats, many much closer at hand. Rising oceans are bad, in fact very bad; but fleeing the coastline will not be enough.
Indeed, absent a significant adjustment to how billions of humans conduct their lives, parts of the Earth will likely become close to uninhabitable, and other parts horrifically inhospitable, as soon as the end of this century.
Sauer, for her part, isn’t going to stand around and wait for her parent’s and grandparent’s generation to take responsibility and solve this planetary emergency. “Teens across the nation and all over the world,” she says, “are demanding action against climate change.” Kids like the 21 youth-plaintiffs who are suing the president in what National Geographic‘s Laura Parker calls the “Biggest Case on the Planet”:
[17-year-old] Baring and [9-year-old] Draheim so lack confidence that they will inherit a healthy planet that they are suing the United States government for failing to adequately protect the Earth from the effects of climate change. They are among a group of 21 youths who claim the federal government’s promotion of fossil fuel production and its indifference to the risks posed by greenhouse gas emissions have resulted in “a dangerous destabilizing climate system” that threatens the survival of future generations. That lapse violates, the court papers argue, their fundamental constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property. The lawsuit also argues that the government violated the public trust doctrine, a legal concept grounded in ancient law that holds the government is responsible for protecting public resources, such as land and water—or in this case, the climate system—for public use.
John D. Sutter is hopeful these “climate kids could help change the tide”:
A 16-year-old walked up to the microphone
“The state of the planet is unraveling all around us because of our addiction to fossil fuels,” Xiuhtezcatl Martinez said at the steps of the US Supreme Court this week. “For the last several decades, we have been neglecting the fact that this is the only planet that we have and that the main stakeholders in this issue (of climate change) are the younger generation. Not only are the youth going to be inheriting every problem that we see in the world today — after our politicians have been long gone — but our voices have been neglected from the conversation.
“Our politicians are no longer representing our voices.”
Sydney Sauer calls herself a “normal, everyday teen.” As she rolls up her sleeves to ensure a habitable planet for her generation, she waits for the rest of us to do the same:
So, leaders, if you are reading this, please remember that we are the ones who will inherit the earth. We are the ones who will face the consequences of climate change. And because of this, we demand action — not apathy.
More coverage on climate change and health on The PediaBlog here.