The Climate Crisis

Thanks to our scientists and educators around the world, we’ve known for decades that our planet is warming at an unprecedented rate causing significant changes to our climate. We know that this warming is being primarily driven by the burning of fossil fuels releasing heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. We also know that we are on an urgent timeline. According to the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) special report on global warming, in order to prevent the most catastrophic impacts of the climate crisis – such as extreme weather events and global temperatures, massives losses in biodiversity, and high-risks of food and water insecurity – we have to drastically decarbonize society as we know it by 2030.

There are currently 258 million children, youth, and adolescents out of school. According to Education Cannot Wait, 75 million of them don’t have access because of crises, like conflict and natural disasters. While not all of them are directly related to the climate crisis, linkages between climate change and these crises have been steadily increasing beginning with Ban-Ki Moon, the eighth Secretary General of the United Nations, declaring the conflict in Darfur rooted in an ecological crisis fueled by climate change becoming the first climate conflict. More recently warming has been directly linked to an increase in civil war in Africa. An increase in these crises translates to populations being uprooted and ultimately education access becoming more and more difficult.

But what we also know is the solutions are at our fingertips. Global installations of renewable energy sources, like wind and solar power, have exponentially risen in the past 15 years. The cost of these sources has dramatically decreased making it an even more reasonable expectation of governments to urgently transition to clean energy. In addition to the rise of renewable energy, we have seen innovative solutions to the climate crisis such as the electrification of vehicles, economic mechanisms to drive down the consumption of carbon, and sustainable agricultural practices to support capturing carbon. In fact, the international research institution Project Drawdown has identified 80 different solutions to decarbonize our planet globally.

Yet, we are still facing this crisis head on. Some of the countries with the largest carbon footprints have either stagnated or taken backward steps in addressing this issue. For example, the United States has reversed many of its policies to slow emissions in spite of being ranked as the second largest global emitter, releasing 5,269.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2017. The most notable being President Trump pulling out of the 2015 Climate Paris Agreement, where 175 countries signed on to keeping global warming well below 2 degrees celsius.

The Youth Climate Movement

But amongst this regression, a unified voice has risen. Young people concerned about their future are demanding urgent solutions to the crisis at hand – despite years of being left out of a conversation that directly affects their livelihoods.

In 2015, 21 youth plaintiffs sued the US Government asserting that inaction on the climate crisis is and has been a direct violation of the human rights of young people. The case is still ongoing, and slowly making its way through the justice system to be potentially reviewed by the US Supreme Court. In 2017, 16-year Jaime Margolin founded Zero Hour, an entirely youth-led organization dedicated to supporting youth on how to mobilize for climate justice, and it’s cross-connected ties to racial equity and economic justice. That same year, the Sunrise Movement launched its campaign to involve young people in creating the most ambitious US climate policy with the Green New Deal, currently being championed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman to ever hold office in Congress.

The movement of young people truly ignited when 16-year old swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg addressed the global governments in December 2018 at the 24th Conference of Parties. Articulating with astonishing directness, Thunberg called out government agencies for deprioritizing youth voices and futures.

Thunberg has been opting to skip school every Friday since August 2018 to sit in front of Swedish Parliament demanding urgent climate action and asking “why become educated for a future that might not be there?”. Her actions sparked an international movement of youth definitively taking ownership over their futures, with global youth turning out to strike their own governments. On March 15, 2019 over 1.6 million youth in more than 120 countries participated in a global strike for climate becoming the largest youth climate strike to date.

This was a mere jumping off point for the #FridaysForFuture movement. Global youth organizations and movements have been joining together in coalition for the fight for their futures, all building to September 20th, 2019. Days before the United Nation’s annual climate summit, Greta Thunberg will join US youth activists in launching the largest mobilization for climate action ever. With more than 750 strikes planned in the United States, millions of youth and adult allies will forgo school and work responsibilities to demand urgent and comprehensive climate action.

The Role of Education

While these mass demonstrations are pivotal in the fight for climate justice, we look to education to be a core principle of the movement. All levels of education have a part to play, such as fostering a culture of environmental consciousness to increase social pressure on institutions, like government and big business; researching and discovering new solutions to reducing our impact and solving the crisis; and humanizing the climate crisis by connecting and sharing the stories from communities on the frontlines disproportionately bearing the brunt of climate impacts.

While youth around the globe are skipping school weekly to emphasize urgency, education as a critical component makes this form of protest even more poignant. Those in power are being sent a message by the generation whose futures will be directly impacted by the climate crisis, and it’s about time they listened. The climate crisis is not something that is in the distant future or will be impacting generations to come. It’s impacts are being felt loudly now. Projections show it’s continuing at an alarming rate with increasingly dire consequences with each passing moment of inaction.

We look to education to be a youth led catalyst in the fight and solution to the climate crisis. The two are equally reliant on each other to establish a better future for generations to come.

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Taylor Rogers is a youth activist, global education advocate, and environmentalist. She is a GCE-US Youth Advocacy Leader and a founding member of 260by26, a youth led international nonprofit focused on achieving global education equity. She currently runs the 100% Committedcampaign – a national campaign focused on cities, universities, and businesses transitioning to 100-percent renewable electricity by 2030 – at The Climate Reality Project.

Emery Kiefer is the Campus Corps Program Coordinator at The Climate Reality Project. A native of North Carolina, she completed her bachelor’s of science degree in natural resources; policy and administration at NC State University, leading her to a passion for climate and youth activism. In her role, she supports young Climate Reality Leaders across the United States take important climate action in their communities as well as plugging young people into the larger Youth Climate Movement.

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The Global Campaign for Education (GCE) is a civil society movement that aims to end exclusion in education. Education is a basic human right, and our mission is to make sure that governments act now to deliver the right of everyone to a free, quality, public education.