“Growing up I didn’t think what I did could make a difference.
But that’s the thing: one person’s actions, inspire others. That’s how a movement begins.”
Jorune Klisauskaite, 20, Defend Our Future
At sixteen years old, Greta Thunberg is global icon. She has established herself as such by embarking on a mission to raise awareness of the climate crisis and by demanding that elected leaders listen to the voices of us young people when making decisions that will determine what our futures will look like. In August 2018, Thunberg, fifteen at the time and frustrated by the Swedish government’s lack of political willingness to tackle climate change, stationed herself outside the Swedish parliament with her homemade sign that read “School Strike for Climate.” The movement caught on quickly: “The first day, I sat alone from about 8.30am to 3pm – the regular schoolday. And then on the second day, people started joining me. After that, there were people there all the time,” she recalls. Thunberg is a captivating speaker who has a commanding presence over any audience – whether it’s the House of Parliament in London or a group of her peers (Watch her speech on the national stage at the UN Climate Change COP24 Conference). Social media has enabled young people around the globe to organize and share their climate strike stories, while signifying an inclusive movement in which everyone is welcome and everyone’s stories are valued.
It is way too easy to push off the climate crisis when you are an elected leader who may not even be alive by the time the most dangerous climate change impacts could upend the lives of billions. Thunberg knows this. The estimated 1.5 million young people from 128 countries in the world who went on strike to demand bold climate action from their leaders in May 2019 know this. That is one of the many reasons young people like us are fighting so hard. Climate strikes like the historic one held in May were extremely effective in drawing the public’s attention to their protests; yet, this movement cannot be solely measured by its ability to draw in the public’s eye.
Young people have already made significant strides in influencing some of the most powerful decision makers in the world, spurring real, concrete change. For example, back in December, the Sunrise Movement – a grassroots organization of young climate activists – occupied House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office in an effort to secure her support of the Green New Deal (GND). While the resolution ultimately failed to pass, Speaker Pelosi released a statement saying she was inspired by youth activism and pledged to reinstate the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.
Defend Our Future is also playing a critical role in uniting young people across the entire political spectrum and from all different backgrounds. We are proud to be organizing groups to attend major hearings in Congress, like the new Select Committee on the Climate Crisis’s first hearing on the importance of young leaders in the climate movement, at which we helped uplift the voices of young people across the nation. As stated by Chairwoman of the Committee, Kathy Castor, “This is a time for hope, this is a time for solutions, this is a time for us to come together – all generations, all political persuasions – for action to combat the climate crisis. You are rising to the occasion. We must rise with you.”
We believe that the stakes are too high to leave anyone out who is interested in advancing a clean energy future to protect future generations. And we demand the same from our leaders: We believe our elected leaders must reach across the aisle to protect our planet from a climate catastrophe. Science tells us that we only have twelve years to act to avoid the most disastrous climate outcomes, so the best way to get this done is to come together in pursuit of a clean energy future.
Defend is also active in providing opportunities for us young people with the most at stake with climate change to meet with and testify before of our leaders. In March, Defend supporters testified at the EPA headquarters in opposition of the Trump administration’s proposal to revoke the lifesaving Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS). Francie Johnson, Vice President of the Drexel University chapter of Defend, made the following statement about the important of MATS during her testimony:
About 9% of adults and 10% of children in Pennsylvania indicated that they have asthma. Two such Pennsylvanians are my best friends. With a nearly 91% reduction of Mercury emissions in PA as a result of these standards, that means there are more days when my friends can forget their inhalers at home without worrying. (Read more here).
In a huge bipartisan win, the House voted to uphold the EPA’s MATS. This victory demonstrates the power we have to influence our elected leaders. Defend is also gathering thousands of signatures for petitions ranging from issues like Trump administration’s dangerous rescission of methane protections to calling on our leaders commit to a 100% Clean economy by 2050. When the government puts forward a proposal that puts our lives and communities at stake, we speak out boldly.
Defend is also on the ground organizing community events to spread awareness about how environmental and climate issues directly impact our lives (and we provide helpful resources as we support activists as they plan their own awesome events!). One of our signature events, Defend Our Beer, brings young people together at local breweries to discuss how the impacts of climate change and clean water protections impact the beer industry. Elected leaders want to hear from activists like you, and given this movement’s incredible presence, people around the world now understand that young people are a force to be reckoned with – that we will fight for nothing less than a sustainable, healthy, future for us all – a future in which 100% Clean is realized.
Defend is proud to be on the front lines of this immensely powerful movement of young people. This mass mobilization of youth as unlike anything they have witnessed before. And it will only continue to grow. Like millions of young people around the world, those of us at Defend know there is a lot of work left to be done. But we are also more than ready to give the climate crisis our best fight. Our futures depend on it. The longer our elected leaders delay the climate solutions that science demands we must pursue, namely, committing to cut climate pollution from our atmosphere entirely by 2050, the more emboldened we will become. As put by Greta, “We children are doing this because we want our hopes and dreams back.” This is only the beginning.