By Alexandria Villaseñor
September 30, 2020 at 5:00 am ET
When I was 13, I began my climate strike by skipping school. It was December 2018, and I started sitting on a bench outside the United Nations in New York City, holding a sign that said “School Strike for Climate.” I would tell people – anyone who would listen – that in the future, school wouldn’t matter. Young people would be running away from one ecological disaster after another. Why go to school when you have no future? Adults said I was being alarmist. It couldn’t possibly get that bad, they told me.
But here we are, in the middle of a pandemic. Too many elected officials failed to pay attention to the science about COVID-19. And now, students around the United States can’t go back to school safely. With climate change, the stakes are even higher for future generations.
My prediction is not some youthful exaggeration. This is what the science says. I have read the studies (just like everyone else can and should read). From the perspective of a young person, it is really easy to see how ecological emergencies like a pandemic or the climate crisis will affect every aspect of our society and our lives, all at the same time.
But unlike young people, President Donald Trump doesn’t believe in science — not on the coronavirus, and not on climate change. In fact, he has called the climate crisis a hoax. His disregard for science is enmeshed in his policies. He has gutted the rules aimed at reducing harmful carbon emissions. At the same time, the Trump administration is making it easier for fossil fuel companies to continue polluting the air.
Trump is making young people vulnerable to the worst consequences of climate change, and it will only get worse if he wins another four years in the White House. But if we elect Joe Biden, we can have a much different future.
Biden has a plan for a clean energy future that will fight climate change, and there are three big reasons for Gen Z to like it.
First, his plan sets an aggressive timeline to reduce carbon pollution and would create a more resilient future for my generation and the next. For example, he has committed to achieving carbon pollution-free energy in electricity generation by 2035. That’s a big and necessary commitment. However, while reducing carbon emissions will mitigate the worst consequences of climate change, by itself, that strategy won’t automatically guarantee a vibrant and healthy climate for future generations. So, Joe Biden will create a Civilian Climate Corps to restore the ecological integrity of our planet. The corps will be made up of a new generation of scientists, land managers, conservationists who are committed to ecological integrity and natural climate solutions.
Two, Biden’s plan will hold polluters accountable for the harm they’ve caused. That’s something that his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, has a strong record on. As California attorney general, she sued corporations like Chevron and BP for damaging the environment, and she took corporations to court for exposing people to toxic levels of diesel.
Third, Biden’s plan will make progress irreversible. The problem with only making small, incremental policy changes is that any success can be easily wiped out if new leaders with the wrong agenda come into power. Biden will make investments in his first term. That will put us on track to make the progress that science demands, which means that by the time Gen Z takes the reins of power, we will be on much safer footing.
Beyond his strong plan on clean energy, I believe in Joe Biden as a leader. My generation is passionate about so many issues. We care about climate change. We also know that Black Lives Matter. We want fair and humane immigration policies. We believe everyone should be able to get health care. We don’t want COVID-19 to further disrupt how we grow up. Biden understands how all of these issues will affect our future. When we say that we can’t imagine a future where kids go to school because world leaders have ignored the science, Biden listens.
To the Gen Zers who are eligible to vote, you can find out all of your options at IWillVote.com and make sure you are registered.
Regardless of age, all of us can have a say in what’s going to happen next. We can all keep using our platforms to raise the alarm on climate change. We can all mobilize, like we did for the Global Climate Strike, to tell people why this election matters. Whether by holding a sign or by voting, we can all be the activists this moment calls for. Our future is worth the fight.
Alexandria Villaseñor is a 15-year-old climate justice activist and the founder of Earth Uprising, a youth-led environmental group.
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