In a show of force, students and young leaders in states across the country (Oregon, Florida, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Illinois, Iowa, and New York) rallied at their state capitals to demand equitable and science-based action on climate change. Students in Washington State will hold a similar event on Thursday.
These distributed youth-led events called on state lawmakers to enact bold state-level policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and invest in a just transition to clean energy. While the specific demand varied in each state, the student’s message was unified and simple: act now to protect our future. Lawmakers were asked to support comprehensive climate policies that have been introduced, including but not limited to: the Clean Energy Jobs bill in Oregon, the Climate and Community Protection Act in New York State, and an Act to Promote Green Infrastructure and Reduce Carbon Emissions in Massachusetts. In states without pending climate legislation, legislators were asked to make climate change a priority and sign the no-fossil-fuel money pledge.
“Youth from across the political spectrum have risen and are committed to finding solutions to humanity's most unique challenge: climate change,” said Steven Kirchner, a graduating senior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “This is not a partisan or politicized issue between young people-- it’s a defining moment in history and we have to get it right. During the Lobby Day, youth across the country flexed their political prowess to demand action on climate change. As a second ‘bomb cyclone’ threatens to move in over the Plains, the state of Nebraska is recovering from potentially the worst flood in state history. The devastating effects of a warming climate knock at our doorstep. Urgent action is required by those in positions of power to do so today.”
The Youth Climate Lobby Days follow a series of similar efforts across the country to highlight the urgency of climate change, including the recent Climate Strikes as well as the sit-ins led by the Sunrise Movement in Washington D.C. that ignited a nationwide call for a Green New Deal.
These youth-led movements have shown how the environmental movement is shifting. For younger generations, it’s no longer about acting on climate change as an abstract political issue, solely focused on greenhouse gas emission reductions. Instead, they’ve highlighted the importance of recognizing climate change as an urgent threat that disproportionately impacts marginalized communities. The Youth Climate Lobby Day’s website states that “a transition to a clean energy economy must be equitable and must uplift the voices and the needs of those on the frontlines of climate change (Indigenous people, People of Color, youth, and low-income communities).”
The timing of these movements is no mistake. Many states recently became pro-climate majorities after the 2018 midterm elections, and with the 2020 elections on the horizon, presidential candidates are looking to solidify their platforms with what their constituents are most passionate about. These recent widespread calls to action make it clear that an equitable response to climate change is becoming, and will remain, a major factor in upcoming elections.
With calls for the next president to declare that climate change is a national emergency, it’s clear that the times are changing. If the traditional, “middle of the road” political parties want to remain relevant (or in power), they must take a bold stance on climate. After all, climate change is no longer a political issue, it is simply an issue of survival.
Youth Lobby Day is an event led by young people across the country to hold elected officials accountable to passing bold and ambitious climate policies. It is led and managed by Our Climate, a youth-led organization dedicated to mobilizing the generations most affected by climate change to become powerful advocates for science-based and equitable climate policy.