For guidance from the future, we don’t have to imagine what hypothetical descendants would want; we can instead listen to the rising chorus of living, breathing young people today, clamoring for their right to a stable climate and therefore a hopeful future for themselves and for future generations.
There is no shortage of brilliant, creative, and hardworking young people to listen to. In Paris for the 2015 climate summit, I met a ten-year-old girl boarding the train with her mom. She was carrying a colorful paper gingerbread person as big as she was. “I’m not allowed in the conference,” she told me. “So I’ve made these kid-sized dolls to hang around the halls, to remind the negotiators our future depends on them, and we’re watching.”
We can listen to young people like Lillian, a clear-eyed twelve-year-old from Minnesota who interviewed me for her language arts project on climate change. She told me she had focused on climate because “I made a list of all the things that are wrong with the world. I realized that none of them matter if we don’t have a planet. How do I make old people care about climate change?”
Lillian has more power than she may realize, including through sharing her concerns with the adults around her. A study led by Danielle Lawson showed that ten- to fourteen-year-olds who learned about climate change and shared their concerns increased their parents’ concern. This was especially the case for daughters. Conservative men were typically the least concerned, and the most resistant group to climate change communication, but they showed the biggest increase in climate concern after listening to their kids. The researchers believe that high levels of parent-child trust, and the children’s lack of entrenched political ideology, helped them achieve influence.
Youth is the only universal constituency: Everyone is, or was, a kid. Yet kids can’t vote. In 2019, eleven-year-old Lilly Platt requested that her grandfather cast his vote for the EU parliamentary elections according to her wishes that politicians follow the Paris Agreement. He agreed, saying, “Any vote that I make, I don’t have to live with the consequences of. You do.” Adults can learn a great deal from listening to children with humility.
We can listen to the millions of young people on climate strike in the streets and gathering online around the world, who demand and deserve a world that stops global warming. Their ask is that adults in power now listen to the information we already have from science and act accordingly to safeguard their future.