I go to class and talk about climate change every day. Often, I make an offhand comment to a friend on campus about how we are all doomed and nothing really matters. They usually agree.
Young people are conscious about the threat of climate change. We know that this fight isn’t about our far-off future; it’s about our today. It’s about what we are willing to tolerate in the present moment and what we cannot afford to ignore any longer. Just as Florida’s Parkland School survivors are taking a stand for their own safety, the young people of Connecticut can take a stand for climate justice and a rapid transition to renewable energy.
As an intern for Clean Water Action, I am able to participate first-hand in advocacy at the Connecticut General Assembly. I’m excited to be there because the state is at a crossroads, with strong new climate policies on the table. This session, lawmakers have a chance to approve a full-scale climate action plan to curb emissions and protect us from rising seas and weather extremes; a bill to scale up renewable energy to 40 percent of our utilities’ supply by 2030, and another allowing groups of consumers to establish community solar facilities so that everyone can have access.
There is a proposed carbon “fee and dividend” system that makes polluters pay and returns the revenue to communities. And there is even a bill that would restore the $175 million that was raided last year from the state’s Clean Energy Funds in a misguided attempt to balance the budget.
All these proposals reflect a measure of political courage. At a press conference announcing the bill to protect the Clean Energy Funds, legislators made it clear that they were expecting an uphill battle. Yet, at a Clean Energy Lobby Day convened by Clean Water Action, I was heartened to realize that many of our legislators and their staffs are listening.
We have room for a dialogue on these issues, but now is ultimately the time to act. And in this short legislative session, we need more than courage — it’s time for creative mobilization. Parkland’s activists don’t just show that kids care, but that youth activism can have a powerful impact.
In the climate action movement, there are bright lights of youth leadership. We see creative efforts like Our Children’s Trust, which has sued the federal government on behalf of 22 young people at risk in a changing climate. But climate policy in Connecticut has not yet had its shining moment of commitment and creativity.
What would that look like? It would certainly bring large numbers of young people to the Capitol, not once but regularly. And we would be speaking about more than rational economic benefits – we would be speaking with a moral voice. On campuses where students care but feel isolated and ignored, those cynical conversations I fall into would be replaced by calls to action, teach-ins, policy stands. Our campuses would be working their way into carbon neutrality and students would be learning from every facet of this process. Most of all, we would be taking it personally in a healthy way, speaking frankly about the challenges we face and the consequences of inadequate policy.
Do we need a Parkland style catastrophe to get there? Or can we look at Puerto Rico, the last three freak storms, and extreme droughts threatening communities all over the world, and make the connection?
I think we can. Whether or not you agree, we’re coming together anyway.
This is your official invitation to Clean Water Action’s Youth Voices for Climate Action at our Day of Legislative Action on April 18 at the Legislative Office Building, 300 Capitol Avenue in Hartford. Learn more at www.cleanwater.org and follow us on Facebook for updates.
The quality of political dialogue going on today in Hartford provides an opportunity to press for more ambitious climate action, and we are prepared to meet the challenge.
Kaitlin Hollinger is a student at UMass Amherst studying Applied Astrobiology and Environmental Policy. She is organizing the April 18 event in her role as intern for Clean Water Action and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Melissa Everett, Ph.D. directs the energy and sustainability program for Clean Water Action in Connecticut.