You’ll die of old age, I’ll die of climate change
By Grant Brown, Founder, Happy Eco News.
I was absently browsing the web looking for inspiration for a good blog post this afternoon, doomscrolling is what I think my kids would call it (at least that’s what it feels like). I wasn’t motivated to write, and I was having had a kind of crappy week. Covid lockdowns, rising death rates, and fear everywhere kind of does that to my creative process. After an hour of browsing uninspired content, I saw an image of a woman, a protester, carrying a hand-printed sign that said, “You’ll die of old age, I’ll die of climate change”.
Upon closer scrutiny, the woman is young. Close in age to my own daughter, she is a teen probably 17 or 18 years old (maybe younger) and in the photo, it appears she has a half-smile. Her hair is wet, her feet barefoot. Eyes locked on the photographer, she walks toward the camera, away from the direction the other protesters are walking. She is our future.
She, and others like her, are the people who will be most affected by the climate crisis. If recent trends continue, people my age will mostly be dead by the time the worst effects are felt. She will be in her late 50’s, maybe with grandchildren of her own. She is your daughter and your granddaughter. She is my daughter and my granddaughter. She is our future.
The girl with the sign represents the future, and yet we have let her down. She carries the weight of the world on her shoulders and she shouldn’t have to.
Young people aren’t taking it anymore and nor should they. They are fed up with old people stuck in their old ways, selfishly polluting the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat. They are sick of older generations destroying wild places to serve their own greed, all the while telling the young people that they are “naïve” and don’t understand the (corrupt) ways of the world. “Don’t worry, the scientists are all wrong”, or even “you’re smart, you’ll fix it.”
Young people are starting to understand that they do in fact have power. In the US federal election, early results say that young people, many of them first-time voters, made a huge difference. Single issue voting has long been the territory of elder generations – they vote for or against a specific issue, supporting the candidate or party that is most likely to pander to their specific cause. Economics, abortion, gun control, religion, and immigration are but a few of the hot topics that old school politicians like to take a “stand” on. But now, young people are facing the sobering reality of the consequences of centuries of industrial and consumer pollution, and decades of big businesses manipulating science, data, and public opinion.
These young people are now voting for climate action as their single issue. The reality is this single issue is tied to many of the other issues of today. Issues like gender and wealth inequity, racism, even the abuse of indigenous populations. Most young people today are far better educated on these topics than I was at their age, and many are now stepping up to voice their opinions.
Most of these young leaders are girls and young women. They are intelligent and articulate. They understand how policy and politics work. They understand marketing and messaging and are comfortable talking directly to those who would have shunned them or shamed them into silence just a few years ago. A few years ago, they would not even have had a voice, just because of their gender and age. But now they demand a seat at the table. They unify an entire generation, bringing millions into the streets with them in protest. They will no longer be ignored. These new young leaders are confident yet empathetic – maybe because they have watched so many like themselves be oppressed by the so-called leaders of generations past.
But most importantly, they are pissed off. Most are civil, but inside, mixed with compassion and love for the planet and the others who live on it, there is anger. Anger against the unjust way the planet and people have been treated. It seethes just under the surface. Anger is a very powerful emotion when harnessed and directed, and the young activists of today are just getting started. There is no reason to think they will back off any time soon. In fact, they will likely step up their game as they realize that now, they actually do hold the power, and as the older generations pass, there will be a huge transfer of wealth, influence, and power.
I have read that there are many young people so angered by the actions of previous generations, that our society is at risk of extreme ageism, even violence. Certainly, when Gen Z’s of today form governments and begin to change laws, there will be a new accounting. Big corporations will no longer be able to hide behind the lawyers and PR firms that help them cast doubt and escape prosecution. CEOs of companies who pollute will be held accountable. Those who sow the seeds of doubt, be it via social media or think tanks, will be abolished from their positions of influence under new laws. Laws that will make it illegal to publish fake news or deny science. The old grey men in suits, those who perpetrated their crimes against humanity, will be punished.
This may sound shocking to those who have lived their lives profiting off the status quo, because after all, it wasn’t illegal.
But you knew. In your hearts, you knew it was wrong.
To you, I say don’t worry, you had a great life, and the sad truth is, in a few more years you will soon just be a memory. The really unfortunate part is that your grandchildren won’t likely have such a nice life. They will be picking up the pieces, living in a burnt landscape, trying to fix that which you have so callously destroyed while evading responsibility. And that my friends, is something these kids will not be able to forget. In fact, it may be their longest-lasting memories of people whose words said I love you, but whose actions were so indifferent.
So, to all who read this, try to do the right thing. Try to live a life that is clean. One that doesn’t hurt others. Support the youth leaders and the kids that follow them. Do what you can. Leave a positive legacy. It is the ultimate gift of generosity and doesn’t really cost a thing. After all, it isn’t for you or even me. It is for your daughters and granddaughters. It is for the girl walking in the rain, holding the handmade sign.