This Sunday, The New York Times published an editorial entitled, “We’re All Climate Change Idiots”. This piece summed up the answer to a question I have been asking for a very long time:

CLIMATE CHANGE is staring us in the face. The science is clear, and the need to reduce planet-warming emissions has grown urgent. So why, collectively, are we doing so little about it?

The answer came as no surprise to those of us who work to stop human-induced climate change but now, our suspected answer is backed up by a study lead by Yale Law Professor, Dan Kahan. The Times sums up the study’s findings like this,

We have trouble imagining a future drastically different from the present. We block out complex problems that lack simple solutions. We dislike delayed benefits and so are reluctant to sacrifice today for future gains …. [W]e find it harder to confront problems that creep up on us than emergencies that hit quickly …. We also tend to pay attention to information that reinforces what we already believe and dismiss evidence that would require us to change our minds.

View of Vermilion Road in Duluth after flooding within Tischer Creek drainage. Photo: John Goodge

Over the course of the last year, I have been working with a dynamic, committed and brilliant group of young Americans who don’t have trouble imagining a future different from the present. They don’t block out complex problems that lack simple solutions and instead find the solutions. They are completely prepared to make sacrifices today to save their futures. They confront problems head on and pay attention to both the scientific evidence about climate change as well as the evidence in plain sight:

  • In Colorado, two died, 350 homes were lost, and 32,000 people evacuated in Waldo Canyon Fire and the fire scar has been likened to a barren moonscape with erosion and flash floods predicted to cause future damage.
  • In Minnesota, rushing water from flash floods, ripped up streets, washed cars off the road, filled homes with water, left piles of debris everywhere, forced evacuations and flood waters rose high enough that the polar bear and the seals living at the local zoo escaped their enclosures. Millions in damages are yet to be tallied.
  • In the Mid Atlantic, the heat wave and accompanying storms left at least 13 dead, 20 injured and 3 million without power.

So I was curious as to whether the study surveyed youth? And this time around, it didn’t. But what if it had? Would the results be different? My anecdotal experience over the last year working side-by-side with our youth, suggests, “Yes.” Our youth have a profound understanding that we – the adults – are gambling away their future in spite of the fact that we have the technology to overcome the climate challenges we urgently face. So now all we need is political will.

One of these young Americans is Ashley Funk. Ashley is now 18 years old, from western Pennsylvania and she is many things. She is an identical twin, the founder of Pollution Patrol, a volunteer at the local care home and she loves to sing with her friends around campfires. Ashley is asking our leaders to recognize that environmental destruction is the destruction of human health and in turn realize that we have the potential for change. She has done extensive research in preparation for a career as an environmental engineer and policy maker and she knows that we are not stuck in this society where we have to rely on destructive fossil fuels to power today.

Here is Ashley’s story:

Yesterday, Ashley filed a petition for rulemaking with key agencies in Pennsylvania asking her state officials to adopt and implement a Climate Recovery Plan based on the best available science. To get back to a safe level of carbon in our atmosphere, science calls for a 6% reduction in green house gas emissions every year along with significant reforestation until we reach 350 parts per million. In doing so, she joins with youth from across America who are calling on all state governments and our federal government to take urgent action to avert the worst effects of climate change. To meet more of these young people and learn about their commitment as plaintiffs in an unprecedented legal action called Atmospheric Trust Litigation, click here.

This week, Elizabeth Kolbert wrote in The New Yorker , “While farmers wait for rain and this season’s corn crop withers on the stalk, the familiar disconnect continues. There’s no discussion of what could be done to avert the worst effects of climate change, even as the insanity of doing nothing becomes increasingly obvious.”

There may not be any discussion of what can be done by the adults, but our young people are not only talking about what can be done; they are taking bold, daring and unprecedented legal action. I hope you will support them in their efforts.

3 thoughts on “TRUST Pennsylvania: America’s Youth Have Solutions to Climate Change, Let’s Follow Their Lead

  1. Overdue, but I am finally watching Ashley’s video. Talk about a video as advocacy example. Ashley, we desperately need you in the policy making and media producing world. I look forward to seeing what you do next!

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