With TikTok and Lawsuits, Generation Z Takes on Climate Change


Young climate activists taking collective action to raise awareness about global warming and cut greenhouse gas emissions.

On August 8, Kaliko Teruya's father contacted her as she was walking home from her hula lesson. He said that his flat in Lahaina had vanished and that he was fleeing for his life. He was attempting to flee the deadliest American wildfire in more than a century, a blaze in Hawaii fed by powerful winds from a distant cyclone and scarcely hampered by the state's lax natural disaster defences.

Her father was alive. However, the damage of the previous week has strengthened Kaliko's commitment to a cause that will define her generation.

"Climate change made the fire so much worse," she said. "How many more natural disasters must occur before adults recognise the urgency?"


Kaliko, like an increasing number of young people, is working to raise awareness about global warming and cut greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, she and 13 other young people ranging in age from 9 to 18 sued their native state of Hawaii last year over its usage of fossil fuels. With active lawsuits in five states, TikTok videos that mix humour and outrage, and street marches, it's a movement that aims to shape policy, sway elections, and shift a narrative that its supporters say overemphasised climate catastrophes rather than the need to make the planet healthier and cleaner.


Young climate activists in the United States have failed to have the same impact as their European counterparts, where Greta Thunberg has galvanised a generation. However, in the midst of a summer of record heat, stifling wildfire smoke, and now a hurricane coming down on Los Angeles, American teenagers and twenty-somethings concerned about the environment are being taken more seriously.


"We see what's happening with climate change and how it affects everything else," said Elise Joshi, 21, executive director of Gen-Z for Change, an organisation she founded in college. "We're experiencing a mix of anger and fear, and we're finally channelling it into hope in the form of collective action."


Young people are assisting in the planning of a climate march in New York at the United Nations General Assembly next month. And their influence is seen even in deep-red places like Montana, where a judge awarded the movement its biggest victory to date on Monday, ruling in favour of 16 young people who sued the state over its backing for the fossil fuel industry.


In that case, a protracted battle resulted in a surprising victory, implying that the state must consider potential climate damage when authorising energy projects, at least for the time being.

"The fact that kids are taking this action is incredible," said Badge Busse, 15, one of the Montana plaintiffs. "However, it's unfortunate that it had to come to us. We're the last option."


This mixture of pride and frustration is prevalent among young climate campaigners. Many people are energised by what they regard as the fight of their lives, but they are also frustrated that adults haven't addressed a problem that has been well acknowledged for decades.


Climate movement enthusiasm is expanding in unexpected ways. A gang of young techno optimists who reject doomerism have adopted the moniker "Decarb Bros." According to the Pew Research Centre, among Republicans, millennials and members of Generation Z are significantly more likely than their elders to believe that people are warming the globe and favour initiatives to decrease emissions. According to Pew, over 62 percent of young voters support completely eliminating fossil fuels.


Kaliko and her family were on Maui, trying to recover from the island's second natural disaster in five years. In 2018, flash flooding from Hurricane Olivia wrecked their home on the island's northern edge. Now comes the fire.

"We really need adults to wake up," she explained. "There will be no future if we don't fix this now."

Source: nytimes.com

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10 months ago

Diverse initiatives include educational, awareness-raising, and behavioral change campaigns. On these, young people can help a lot in COP28.

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