Climate Strike Forces Skeptics to Stand Against Science
“People are dying; entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”
The spirited words of Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, rang out at the United Nations Climate Summit in New York City last month, and soon were heard throughout social media and global news outlets. Many on the left hailed her as a hero for standing up to world leaders on their insufficient response to the climate crisis, while some on the right attacked her ability to speak on the climate crisis or her perceived demeanor. Thunberg’s speech came shortly after she testified before the United States Congress earlier in September, submitting as her testimony the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that warns of catastrophic consequences of any warming above 1.5 degrees Celsius, saying that she would not submit any other testimony to Congress because she simply wanted politicians to “listen to the scientists.”
Since Thunberg began her “School Strike for the Climate” campaign in solitude, more and more young people across the world have joined her call to action. Her grassroots movement, unprecedented for climate demonstrations, culminated on Sept. 20, as millions of people in over 150 countries took to the streets and demanded action on climate change in line with the IPCC recommendation of keeping warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius. Protesters around the world pressed their political leaders to take more action, even in nations that have already made significant progress towards a carbon-free future. However, the United States stood out as one of the biggest targets of the protests. President Donald Trump left the UN Climate Summit after a mere 10 minutes, and a video of Thunberg staring down the President as he left has since gone viral.
Protesters’ particular antipathy towards Trump is inspired in large part by his party’s outright denial of climate science, a denial that makes the “U.S. Republican Party ... an anomaly in denying anthropogenic climate change.” In addition, the Trump administration EPA, headed by former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, has replaced former President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan with the Affordable Clean Energy rule. Rather than the CPP’s goal of reducing industrial emissions by 80 percent by 2050, academics predict that the ACE rule will either result in a relative flatlining of emissions or increased emissions. The consequences of lackluster climate action in the U.S. and an administration that is increasingly antagonistic to emissions reduction can be seen in the final tally from 2018, in which emissions rose for the first time since 2008.
Some climate protesters have championed solutions to the crisis such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Edward Markey’s (D-MA) now-infamous Green New Deal and other solutions like carbon emission taxes. However, Thunberg and other young climate activists choose not to highlight any particular policy in their protests. While the Green New Deal has inspired Republican vitriol due to its associated costs and increased role for government in energy policy, these protests force skeptics to either take the side of protesters, or attack the science of climate change. And attacking the consensus of science, or youth seeking to make a positive impact on the world, typically just isn’t a good look for anyone.
The passion and furor of these young protesters may be changing climate politics for good throughout the world, but particularly here in the United States. The impacts of changing climate politics remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: these youth will be heard.