With younger generations willingly adopting the tough constraints required to #FlattenTheCurve on the coronavirus, a Gen Z climate campaigner from the United States says it’ll soon be time for older generations to make the equal and opposite sacrifices to get the climate crisis under control.
Writing for the Washington Post, 18-year-old climate justice campaigner and Zero Hour founder Jamie Margolin recounts four years of excuses from political leaders, all of them insisting it would be impossible to transform the country’s economy. The caution has come from across the spectrum—from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former vice president Joe Biden, to Republican Rep. Garret Graves and former reality TV star Donald Trump.
“I’ve constantly heard the same excuses from the leaders who are supposed to protect me, my future, and the future of generations to come,” Margolin writes. “Well, the coronavirus pandemic has blown their cover. It has exposed how government leaders, and the American public, actually can make immediate, dramatic behavioural changes—even when those changes have serious consequences for the economy and our quality of life. It’s just that, until now, they haven’t been willing to.”
Margolin says she’s accepted social distancing restrictions and is encouraging friends and peers to do the same “immediately and gladly, because I will make sacrifices to keep us all healthy.” But “the way the coronavirus disproportionately affects older people is the exact way the climate crisis disproportionately affects young people,” she notes. And yet the reciprocal actions from older generations—a fossil fuel shutdown, controlling factory farming and animal agriculture, building mass transit, setting a 2030 target for net-zero emissions—have all been written off as too inconvenient and too expensive.
“It’s true: Those things are hard,” Margolin writes. “But the coronavirus has proved that they are not impossible—that people will act in an emergency when they understand that it threatens them. Under normal circumstances, the climate catastrophe seems remote, or at least remote enough,” and “there is no incentive to take inconvenient action, so the powerful claim they ‘can’t’.”
But “this pandemic shows that they simply won’t. We’ve seen schools and businesses and churches closed, and sports and entertainment events cancelled. The social and economic consequences of this emergency response have been dire, including mass layoffs and losses in profit. Our leaders have demonstrated a sudden, passionate willingness to make corporations completely modify the way they operate and to shame people into changing their habits. All of this contradicts the usual excuses for climate inaction.”
Which means that “when the worst of the illness has passed, instead of rushing to return to ‘normal’—the old, comfortable pattern of destroying the planet—we can take this opportunity to restructure our economy and society in a way that will ensure today’s children can live,” Margolin concludes. “My generation is giving up our youth—our schooling, our fun, and our freedom—so that you can see next year. When this is over, you may have to keep giving something up so that we can see the next century.”