Everyone’s got something to say about millennials. We’re the puzzle every marketer wants to crack, the conundrum every candidate wants to solve. Depending on what you’re reading, we’re job hoppers or jobless, optimistic or complex, socially aware or selfish.
This September, one thing is for sure: Millennials are stepping up to protect our future—and we’re paying attention to the political leaders who are (or aren’t) doing the same.
As world leaders descend on New York City for the historic United Nations Climate Summit happening on September 23, young people from all across the country will be there to greet them. We’ll be marching in the streets with tens of thousands of people at the People’s Climate March, demanding that the United States lead the world on taking bold and decisive action on climate change.
It would be wise for our elected leaders to listen. By 2015, the youth vote will surge past the Baby Boomers, and young voters will make up one third of the electorate. Recent history has already shown that we are a formidable force in U.S. politics. Our power was first proven in 2008, when young people turned out to volunteer and to vote in record numbers—and by overwhelming margins (66%)—for President Barack Obama, whose 2012 reelection was also due, in large part, to high levels of youth turnout (which broke for the president by a 67% margin).
Throughout our nation’s history, young people have made up the vanguard of social change, often risking everything to force an idea whose time had come. The climate crisis is no different. The People’s Climate March is our chance to take to the streets of New York City and demand that President Obama and all the world leaders convened for the U.N. Summit act with the urgency and boldness that this issue requires: a complete ban on all fossil fuel extraction and rapid development of clean energy programs. After the People’s Climate March, we’ll be flooding Wall Street, sitting in and demanding an end to the abusive economic systems that allow corporate polluters to act unabated as they cause climate change.
With midterm years so often overlooked—and with many writing off young voters all together—the People’s Climate March represents a major turning point. More than 300 college campuses across the country will be represented by student delegations at the march. Thousands of young people are mobilizing, and the People’s Climate March is just the beginning – we’ll take our power and our demands to our campuses, to the big corporate polluters themselves and to the ballot box.
But our power to force action on climate change goes far beyond the voting booth. We are a generation that understands that our financial institutions have failed us, only serving the wealthiest among us. We know that our elected leaders are bought and sold to the highest bidder. We are a generation that opens up Twitter when there is major news, because we know that mainstream media rarely works fast enough or gives us the range of perspectives we’re looking for.
We are the most diverse, progressive and inter-connected generation in US history and we recognize that the same broken cultural, economic and political systems that are at the root of inequality and racism in this country are also fueling the climate crisis. For our generation, climate change is not just an environmental issue—it is a social justice issue.
Young leaders today also know that the fossil fuel industry has a fundamentally immoral business model. The CEOs who run dirty energy companies have made the cold-hearted calculation to burn every last ounce of fossil fuels they can get out of the ground—which will ultimately come at the expense of young people and our futures. Water and air pollution, human well-being, and the very harsh reality that their business model is fundamentally altering our climate simply do not factor into their decisions. Their only motive is profit.
And if that wasn’t enough, the fossil fuel industry has some of the deepest ties to our elected leaders. By turning away from dirty energy, we can begin to reclaim our democracy from corporate polluters. This opportunity for action is enormous; we can act on climate, create millions of good jobs in a new economy and break the stranglehold that the fossil fuel industry has on our democracy.
But we must act now. There is too much at stake to allow these flawed business models and broken political and economic systems to perpetuate themselves any longer.
The beautiful thing about the climate crisis is that the solutions, at their core, are very simple and clear: keep fossil fuels in the ground and invest in clean energy. This would trigger a massive shift in investments, which, if done correctly, could foster a new economic paradigm.
Right now, the economy is failing almost everyone. A massive shift from fossil fuels to clean energy has the potential to usher in a new economy, one that empowers workers, fuels new local businesses and begins to turn the tide on the inequality that has been so rampant in our economic system for generations.
After the People’s Climate March, we’ll go back home to our campuses and neighborhoods. But we’re going to keep organizing. Whether we’re getting arrested blocking the construction of new oil and gas pipelines, knocking on doors to sign up new members for the local solar cooperative and educate voters on candidates who answer our call for bold action on climate change, or helping our communities respond to climate disasters, one thing is very clear: this is a powerful grassroots movement that knows it’s time has come.
Maura Cowley is the executive director of Energy Action Coalition, a youth coalition united for social and environmental justice.