I attended a gathering at the home of some retired science teachers who had taken Al Gore's course on climate change and wanted to share what they had learned.
As I listened, I wanted to throw up. Human beings have never existed on Earth when there has been so much carbon in the atmosphere. We are currently at 410 parts per million (350ppm is considered safe) and humans evolved in an atmosphere with way less.
The effects already happening are scary, and so are the predictions. What kept making me fight back tears, though, was looking around at everyone in the room. I'd say most of them were a generation older than me, if not more. They are worried about the planet that the rest of us will be left with when they go, and that moved me deeply.
Then one man said something that I can't forget. He said "well, we've done a terrible job taking care of the planet, so hopefully young people will do better."
No. No, no, no. That sentiment is so dangerous, and here's why: most young people don't hold power yet. Older adults do. Sure, we all have power over our individual actions, but we’re talking real, systemic power.
Most elected officials are over 50. Most heads of companies are over 50. Those generations are at the apex of their influence over our society, and claiming that they have failed is premature. Even average older adults have assets: money, property, leisure time, authority, wisdom.
Young adults are awash in student debt and very few hold positions of authority. They don't have the time, money, or power to deal with climate change as effectively as older adults can. And children are children. Their job is to play and learn, not to shoulder the burden of complicated environmental problems. It is the exceedingly rare child, or even young adult, who is as confident as Greta Thunberg. And how dare we say that it is solely young people's responsibility to reverse the disaster we have all inherited?
When it comes to climate change, we are truly at a crossroads. Now is the time to use every scrap of privilege we have to mitigate it. This task cannot be left to those who are young today. The lion's share must be accepted by those with the most power in society. Consider whether that is you.