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Teens Against Climate Change: Initiatives You Need To Know

Emily Dao

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In the fight against climate change, young people across the globe have made their voices loud and clear. They want change—and they want it now. This urgency has propelled the topic of climate change to the mainstream in politics. Since then, many 2020 presidential candidates, both Democrats and Republicans, have released their stances on climate change.

As concerns for the environment continue to mount, some young people have lost faith in their leaders. Hence, they’ve started their own initiatives. Here are some of the most influential.

Juliana v. the United States

The Premise

A group of 21 youth activists sued the federal government for pushing fossil fuel-driven energy policies that cause climate change. The plaintiffs argue the government’s negligence in acting against climate change violates their constitutional right to life, liberty, and property.

Just last Tuesday, attorneys representing the plaintiffs petitioned for the case, Juliana v. the United States, to go to trial. The lawsuit calls for the courts to act against climate change by deeming energy policies that cause climate change unconstitutional. Further, the lawsuit demands the government lower emissions to a certain level by 2100 and implement a national recovery plan.

Juliana v. the United States (Photo Credits: Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation)

Julia Olson, the chief legal counsel for Our Children’s Trust, who represents the plaintiffs, told judges, “When our great-grandchildren look back on the 21st century, they will see that government-sanctioned climate destruction was the constitutional issue of this century.”

The landmark case emphasizes how the effects of climate change threaten young people the most. The American Academy of Pediatrics, along with 14 other health organizations, and around 80 scientists and doctors supported this claim in a brief filed with the appeals court. In a report by the World Health Organization, 88% of the global health burden of climate change falls on children younger than 5.

The hearing for Juliana v. the United States, started in 2015 by then-19-year-old Kelsey Juliana, was initially scheduled for October. However, courts continued to push it back. Notably, both the Obama and Trump administrations have tried to get the case dismissed.

Pushback

The lawsuit has gained backlash from opponents, such as assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, Jeffrey Bossert Clark. Clark argued the case should not go forward, saying it was a “dagger at the separation of powers,” since the plaintiffs are calling for the courts to lead policy decisions, rather than elected officials. Clark defended BP after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

“This court case is about establishing a constitutional right to a stable climate system of sustaining human life,” Juliana, now the oldest of the 21 plaintiffs at age 23, told KGW8. “When we first filed the case, the government did not take us seriously. They just thought they would be in and out, try to dismiss this case.”

In the coming weeks or months, a three-judge panel from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is to decide whether the case will be advanced.

School Strike for Climate

A few weeks ago, 16-year-old Greta Thunberg from Sweden, once again galvanized hundreds of thousands of students from 1,600 cities and more than 125 countries to walk out of school in the name of her School Strike for Climate Movement. The movement urges politicians to take action against the growing climate crisis.  

Fridays for Future (Photo Credits: DW)

Thunberg made headlines after skipping school to strike outside of the Swedish parliament building every Friday starting last year. Since then, Thunberg has become a global phenomenon. She’s since encouraged thousands of students to participate in similar strikes and has been at the helm of the #FridaysForFuture movement. Amnesty International, among other organizations, have recognized Thunberg’s work. Most notably, she was also nominated to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

13-year-old Alexandria Villaseñor was among many students inspired by Thunberg to take action herself. Every Friday since December, Villaseñor has picketed outside the United Nations, equipped with handmade signs and, during the polar vortex when temperatures hit subzero, a sleeping bag for warmth.

“It’s important to take action now because we don’t have time left. By the time the youth are in positions of power, it’ll be too late to reverse climate change. We have to force politicians to start acting on climate change,” Villaseñor told The Nation. “Why go to school if we won’t have a future?”

U.S. Youth Climate Strike

In solidarity with Thunberg, Villaseñor has helped spearhead U.S. involvement in the global climate protests through the Youth Climate Strike U.S. (YCSUS). Villaseñor co-founded YCSUS with Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s 16-year-old daughter Isra Hirsi and 12-year-old Haven Coleman. 16-year-old Maddy Fernands acts as the group’s national press director.

Climate change directly and most severely affects today’s youth, and more and more young people across the globe have made it clear they refuse to sit idly by in the wake of the climate crisis. As initiatives against climate change gain traction, evidently, the world’s youth is getting more involved in creating a safer, more sustainable future.

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Pacific allies condemn Australia over its inaction on the climate crisis

Rich Bowden

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Leaders discuss the climate emergency at the Pacific Islands Forum

The Australian delegation’s success at watering down the final communique on climate change at the Pacific Islands Forum last week has united Pacific nations against the regional power. Pacific leaders stated Australia’s pro-fossil fuel strategy at the forum, hosted by the island state of Tuvalu, will have negative consequences for the region’s future.

‘Fierce’ discussions about the climate crisis continue

Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama attacked the Australian strategy in a tweet following the summit: “We came together in a nation [Tuvalu] that risks disappearing to the seas, but unfortunately, we settled for the status quo in our communique. Watered-down climate language has real consequences — like water-logged homes, schools, communities, and ancestral burial grounds.”

Bainimarama described Australia’s behavior towards the other Pacific nations as “very insulting and condescending.”

The Fiji PM was not alone in criticizing Australia’s negotiation strategy, which appeared to be to remove any reference to fossil fuels in the final communique. Vanuatu’s foreign minister Ralph Regenvanu, who was part of the negotiating process, described the discussion as “frank, fierce at times, [with] very strong positions being held.” He added that negotiations nearly broke down due to Australia’s intransigence.

Australia’s refusal to condemn fossil fuels as a major contributor to the climate emergency appeared to be the defining factor in the rancorous debate, according to sources.

Saving nations or the economy?

Speaking at a joint press conference with Australian PM Scott Morrison following the week-long forum, host Tuvalu’s PM Enele Sopoaga, said he told Morrison: “You are concerned about saving your economies, your situation in Australia, I’m concerned about saving my people in Tuvalu and likewise other leaders of small island countries,” he said.

“… we were exchanging flarey language, not swearing, but of course you know, expressing the concerns of leaders and I was very happy with the exchange of ideas, it was frank. Prime Minister Morrison, of course, stated his position and I stated my position and [that of] other leaders: we need to save these people,” he added.

However, the rancor was not limited to the forum. New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern, who said Australia needed to “answer to the Pacific” was on the receiving end of a vicious attack by Australian shock jock Alan Jones who suggested PM Morrison put a sock down the throat of the NZ PM. The derogatory comments drew criticism from Morrison.

Doors open to other regional powers

The Australian government’s lack of empathy for its Pacific neighbors, many of whom face an existential threat from rising sea levels caused by climate change, has opened the door for other countries to build influence in the region, according to commentators. The most active alternative is China which has offered Pacific nations concessional loans to help mitigate the effects of climate change.

Last week’s Pacific Islands Forum is being seen by observers as an opportunity lost by Australia to build confidence amongst its Pacific allies.

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The rise of ecofascism: a new deadly motivation for the far-right

Maddie Blaauw

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From Avengers: Endgame to China’s former one-child policy, concerns about overpopulation negatively affecting the environment are well-known. While the panic incited by the movement has passed, white nationalists and fascists are misapplying it and other environmentalist ideas to support their own violent goals. And by doing so, they’re effectively weakening the real climate activism arguments of those who don’t subscribe to extremist ideologies of ecofascism.

The far-right relates its ecofascist beliefs to environmentalist ideologies

Just look to the national parks. Their unrivaled beauty and serenity stand in stark juxtaposition with the heartless history of the history behind them; thousands of Native Americans were forced from their homes in the belief that they would destroy the land.

Moving forward half a century, the publishing of “The Population Bomb” by Paul R. Ehrlich in 1968 warned of worldwide famine and upheaval caused by overpopulation. It both coincided with and fueled additional anti-immigration sentiment in the late twentieth century. Ehrlich has said that adding to the fire of violence against minorities was not his intention. But nonetheless, his work justified the repression of minority groups worldwide, blaming them for overpopulation.

Also in the second half of the twentieth century, John Tanton, widely regarded as the father of the modern anti-immigration movement, gained a considerable following. Since the founding of the Federation for American Immigration Reform in 1979, Tanton’s ideas inspired many mainstream American conservative beliefs. To support them, he pointed to scarce resources and land in the United States. He reasoned that the country would become heavily polluted and overrun in overpopulation without anti-immigration policy. Tanton often singled out the Latinx community, arguing they should be barred from pursuing a life in the United States. Though the term ecofascism hadn’t been coined back then, this particular idea is deeply ecofascist.

The far-right claims to protect the environment

The most recent of these events was a mass shooting at a Texas Walmart on August 3. The gunman killed 22 and injured 24 others. Just before the attack, a manifesto that used environmentalist views to justify anti-immigration sentiment appeared online. Authorities are working to determine if the document is linked to the suspect. A section reads, with respect to immigrants, “[I]f we can get rid of enough people, then our way of life can be more sustainable.”

The manifesto was titled “An Inconvenient Truth”, which may be an allusion to a 2006 climate documentary of the same name by Al Gore. The manifesto also cites the Christchurch shooting as motivation.

In the Christchurch mosque shootings of May 2019, which many extremists have rallied behind, the charged gunman expressed similar sentiments, attempting to justify anti-immigration with climate change activism. He mentions several times in his manifesto that he is an ecofascist.

Ecofascism is an escalating ideology

Politicians on the left maintain that climate policy should focus on solutions, like limiting pollution and utilizing renewable energy. The extreme right, on the other hand, continues to believe that the solution to climate change is to limit immigration.

The Nation journalist Jeet Heer says:

“This combination of a white nationalism with angst about the prospects for human survival is a perfect recipe for radicalizing young right-wingers and taking Trumpian themes to a new level of extremism … The very real dangers of climate change provide race war fantasists the dystopian background they need to give urgency to their violent agenda.”

Really, the far-right subscribes to ecofascism under the guise of climate change reform, and it’s having dangerous consequences.

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With new revisions to the ESA, Trump is putting endangered species at risk

Madeline Barone

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The Endangered Species Act (ESA), signed by President Richard Nixon in 1973, protected endangered species for the last 46 years. The Act also helps conservation partnerships nationwide to protect America’s animals. However, with the newest changes to the ESA, all bets are off for endangered species, as they become more at risk than ever before.

What will these changes do?

These changes will focus on how officials decide whether a species is endangered or threatened, what kind of protections threatened species should receive, and how officials will decide which areas of habitat to protect. 

When implemented, these changes may weaken the Endangered Species Act’s protections. For example, the changes could make it easier to remove species from the endangered and threatened species lists. The wording of the act may also allow the dismissal of climate change as an irrelevant threat to species’ survival. 

Species already listed as threatened or endangered won’t have their protections changed, but for new additions, the FWS rule case-by-case.  These revisions simply reduce protections for any species that get added to the threatened species list in the future. 

How are these changes different than past revisions?

These changes are far from surprising. The Trump administration proposed some of the revisions, specifically removing the phrase “without reference to economic impact” last July. Overall, these changes make it easier for officials to consider economic factors over environmental ones. 

Also, species categorized as “threatened”, a category placed one away from “endangered”, will no longer receive the same protections as species in the “endangered” category. Instead, the Trump administration will carry out protections on a case-by-case basis. 

What are the differing perspectives on the changes?

U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt claims that “the best way to uphold the Endangered Species Act is to do everything we can to ensure it remains effective in achieving its ultimate goal –recovery of our rarest species. The Act’s effectiveness rests on clear, consistent and efficient implementation.” He continued that “an effectively administered Act ensures more resources can go where they will do the most good: on-the-ground conservation.”

Leah Gerber, professor of conservation science and founding director of the Center for Biodiversity Outcomes at Arizona State University, disagrees. “The new rules completely undermine the strength of the ESA,” Gerber told TIME. “The point of the act is to prevent extinction, this is going to do the opposite. It’s going to undermine efforts to recover species.”

It seems that these revisions are simply to fit President Trump’s economic goals. Although rollbacks to the ESA have been implemented since the Act’s founding, these changes could jeopardize species that are already at-risk. 

Thomas Lovejoy, a Senior Fellow of Biodiversity and Environmental Science at the United Nations Foundation, thinks this is a way for the administration to ignore the effects of climate change on species survival. 

“I consider that absurd since it’s an administration that doesn’t believe in climate change,” Lovejoy told TIME. “The impact of climate change and the fingerprints of climate change can be seen in nature wherever you look. It’s really egregious to ignore it.”

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