We all know that students are more than capable of shaping our communities and advocating for national policy change. That’s why from Florida to New York, we are lobbying for common sense gun reform and opening new avenues for youth civic engagement. This summer, it’s time for students across the nation to unite against the greatest threat of the twenty-first century: climate change.
On July 21st, 2018, students across the country and world are marching for change, calling for our lawmakers to separate themselves from the fossil fuel industry and invest in renewable energy to further a sustainable future. We’re marching as part of Zero Hour, a youth-led movement to combat climate change started by 16-year-old Jamie Margolin. Here in NYC, we will unite with adult allies and environmental justice organizations to march to the United Nations Headquarters to amplify our message that the U.S. must become a leader in the fight against, rather than a chief perpetrator of, global environmental injustice.
As high school seniors, we became the Co-Head Coordinators of Zero Hour NYC after learning about the politics of climate change in our environmental policy class, determined to translate this knowledge into real-world activism. Until then, climate change had never had a place in our curriculum — except for a brief appearance in AP Biology. In History, we studied the evolution of American society from the writing of the U.S. Constitution to the 60s-era civil rights movement; in doing so, we learned to not only to value democracy, civil liberties, and justice for all but to fight for their preservation. We betray these values by neglecting the global and pervasive threat climate change poses to humanity. All of us, regardless of political ideology and background, will be affected by climate change, but today’s students will see its devastating effects manifest in ways the generations who preceded us might never have imagined.
Climate change is not an issue we can put off facing because we are already facing it. Island nations like the Maldives are experiencing sea level rise that threatens their very existence; it is predicted that 77 percent of the nation’s land will be lost by 2100. Global warming and changing weather patterns are not only threatening those in low-lying areas but draining natural resources and fueling geopolitical conflict, displacing people en masse from their homes. The International Organization for Migration projects that there will be 200 million environmentally-induced refugees in the world by 2050.
As Americans, we make a monstrous contribution to climate change. Despite comprising only 5 percent percent of the global population, we have the highest per capita carbon dioxide emissions in the world. And though we may not realize it, we are experiencing the effects of climate change here, too. From Hurricane Sandy in 2012 to Hurricane Harvey in 2017, we are seeing more frequent and severe natural disasters. Rising sea levels are threatening coastal areas from Miami to lower Manhattan. Meanwhile, rising temperatures and changing weather patterns are threatening our agricultural sector, and exacerbating resource shortages like the drought in California.
Somehow, climate change is still presented as an issue up for debate. “just 27 percent of Americans say that ‘almost all’ climate scientists hold human behavior responsible for climate change.” We must present climate change and humanity’s contribution to it as the unquestionable scientific truth it is, but acknowledging this reality is far from enough.
This piece is a case for realism, not pessimism. We have the capacity to fight for and obtain a more sustainable future. Already, 350.org has documented $6.09 trillion worth of commitments to fossil fuel divestment. Here in New York City, we consistently see some of the most inspiring grassroots environmental justice work. Organizations such as New York Renews and WE ACT for Environmental Justice strive to combat the disproportionate effects of climate change on low-income communities, while the People’s Climate Movement has organized historic marches for climate justice with hundreds of thousands of participants. And the city has taken its own steps to become more sustainable; Mayor de Blasio recently announced the city’s goal to divest its pension funds from the fossil fuel industry.
Still, there is more we as members of New York City and New York State can do. We should pass the Climate and Community Protection Act, enact a Polluters Penalty, and support Governor Cuomo’s proposed ban on plastic bags. As Americans, we need to push for a re-commitment to the Paris Climate Accords, a just transition to 100 percent renewable energy, and a complete divestment from the fossil fuel industry by lawmakers, corporations, and public institutions.
The need for action is imminent, and the time for action is now. #thisiszerohour
Ilana Cohen and Amy Torres are co-head coordinators for Zero Hour NYC. For more information on the 7/21/18 Zero Hour NYC Youth Climate March, visit zerohournyc.weebly.com. You can also follow Zero Hour NYC on social media (Facebook/Instagram: @thisiszerohour.nyc & Twitter: @zerohournyc).