It’s Generation Climate (commentary)


  • Last year, Greta Thunberg kick-started a movement of youth striking on Fridays for climate action.
  • The youth today, those born after 1995, are already telling us their generations’ name: Generation Climate.
  • Generation Climate will experience the large-scale impact of global warming after 30 years of inaction.
  • This post is part of “Saving Life on Earth: Words on the Wild”, a monthly column by Jeremy Hance, one of Mongabay’s first staff writers.

On Friday March 15 — the Ides — tens-of-thousands of school-age kids around the world will go on strike from their education. It’s expected to be the biggest Friday Climate Strike yet, a movement started last year by Greta Thunberg in Stockholm, Sweden in a bid to get the adults of the world — us — to do something, anything, about the daily worsening climate crisis that will be our legacy to them: the now-coming-of-age, the Generation Climate.

The growing youth of today, those born during the last 20 years or so, don’t have a name yet. They’ve been dubbed either Generation Z or iGen (apparently we’re now attempting to name whole generations after a product line), but they’re telling us a more apt name: Generation Climate.

Surprisingly, there are no hard or fast rules about when a generation begins or ends, but generally speaking the post-millennial generation is usually set at beginning sometime between 1995 and 2000. Where it ends also remains up for debate. Maybe 2010? Or maybe it’s still going. But whatever years historians eventually land on, the post-millennials are the first full generation born into a world where climate catastrophe is already an established fact.

School Strike for Climate, a.k.a. Fridays For Our Future, in front of Helsinki’s Parliament House in January. Photo by: Kaihsu Tai.

By the time the first members of Generation Climate were born, not only was Hansen’s testimony old news, but the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had already released two reports — one in 1990 and another in 1995 — detailing the basics of climate science and outlining, in the second report, “the potential for human activities to alter the Earth’s climate to an extent unprecedented in human history.”

Generation Climate will spend the entirety of their adult lives in a world that is already 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than it should be, and where carbon dioxide concentrations are outside any previous generations’ experience. In 2013, when Generation Climate ranged from toddler to 18, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide hit 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time since humans walked the Earth. Adam and Eve never saw a climate like this.

Generation Climate will also experience the impacts of our inaction like none before them. Given that some of them will live to see the year 2100, this is the generation that could see the world’s coral reefs wiped off the face of the Earth, that could see an Arctic wholly free of ice and sea levels swallow islands and coastlines across the world. This is the generation that may see widespread famines due to agricultural failure and desertification. This is the generation that may see social and political upheaval from mass migrations, conflict, and societal breakdowns caused by a destabilized climate.

None of this will be Generation Climate’s fault. They will be inheriting the world we have consciously created.

We’ve now had the gift of more than 30 years to confront the climate crisis, thirty years and three generations of leaders: the Silent Generation, the Baby Boomers and most recently, Gen X. If the ultimate goal is to decrease global carbon emissions then you could argue we’ve achieved little to date. While we managed to level off global emissions for a few years, last year saw a new record high.

In fact, one could argue that the leaders of these three generations, time and again, have actually heard the climate concerns and then done the exact opposite of what they should: opening up more areas to oil drilling, building more coal plants, throwing more tax dollars into fossil fuel subsidies. Leaders have time and again chosen deregulation when increased oversight was required and laissez-faire capitalism when what capitalism most needed a leash. Maybe a muzzle.

Perhaps the most important measure to combat climate change has been the Paris Agreement. However, this agreement was never an end in itself, but only a beginning — in many ways the easy part. The hard part — the great transformation, nation by nation — still has to be done. And few nations appear serious yet about doing the heavy lifting.

No matter what the next couple of decades hold — whether we finally get serious about solving the climate catastrophe or we continue to neglect our responsibilities — Generation Climate will face the consequences of 30 years of shirking. And their leaders will no longer have the luxury of turning away.

As the students leave their backpacks at home and pick up their placards, as they fill the streets and chant for courage, remember they are standing up for their generation. For their future. They are telling us to stop turning aside. They are Generation Climate and we would do well to listen.

This story first appeared on Mongabay

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