Yet Another Generation Has Inherited the Climate Change Battle. And They're Done With Empty Talk.
Inside Edition Digital chatted with two experts on the subject: Author Bill McKibben and 18-year-old Jerome Foster II, who serves on the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council
Surveys have shown that more Americans now than ever before worry about climate change and the ways in which it can be addressed, but U.S. views on the issue do differ somewhat by generation. But there's little in the way of a generational divide between Bill McKibben and Jerome Foster II. Decades between them, the overlap between the two on climate change—they're 60 and 18, respectively—couldn't be more apparent.
Both men chatted with Inside Edition Digital to thoroughly explain climate change, how different generations perceive it and what needs to be done to slow the effects it's having on the planet. We're at a tipping point, they said, and the time to act has long been before us. But what's different about this moment? The generation inheriting the earth seems poised to act, they said.
“We've known about the problem with climate change for 30 years, and basically, we've done very little about it for three decades,” author and activist Bill McKibben told Inside Edition Digital.
In 1989, McKibben wrote the first book about climate change for a general audience. He’s now an activist and has founded 350.org, which was the first big grassroots global climate campaign.
Despite his decades spent dedicated to educating the masses about the dangers of climate change, much is still left to be done.
“I'd say people have a right to be going around saying, ‘Okay, boomer.’ I mean, that is who put the carbon in the atmosphere, and that is who has most of the money that maintains this status quo," McKibben said.
“As a young person, I kind of thought, this problem is going to be solved by adults,” Foster told Inside Edition Digital. “One of the biggest things that encapsulates my entire generation's sentiment is that, you don't inherit the earth from your ancestors; you borrow it from your children. And we're the children saying, ‘Where is our allocation of the bare essentials?’ And they're saying, ‘Well, we hogged it for ourselves. We've decided to pollute so much that you don't have a livable future.’ And we're looking at our adults saying, ‘Well, how selfish is that. How not looking forward to our generation is that?’"
Foster is not only a student studying computer science in New York City. He also serves on the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council and is the executive director of OneMillionOfUs, a youth-led organization working to “educate, energize, and empower a movement of young people to register and turn out to vote.”
Foster described climate change as a process of warming the planet. And the effects are noticeable in many different ways.
“With continual warming, that continues to melt the polar ice caps, and with that warming, that also contributes to rising sea levels," he said. "That's the biggest physical way that we see the climate crisis wear itself on local levels is that with the rising sea levels."
Some examples of that are evident with the recent flooding in Miami and Bangladesh. It's also apparent all across the world, as many communities have to fight back the tides.
And according to McKibben, the cause of this is humans putting way too much carbon in the atmosphere by burning coal, gas and oil.
“Half the sea ice in the summer Arctic is gone. We have fire season that stretches most of the year now in places like California. We've got epic storms, more hurricanes last year than any year we've ever measured. On and on and on, but we're still near the beginning of all of this,” he said.
McKibben noted that when he first began writing and advocating, he thought that the evidence he and others brought to light would make the world leaders take notice and do something. But that hasn’t been the case.
“It took me too long to understand that it wasn't really an argument because we'd won the argument. The science was pathetically clear. We were in a fight, and the fight wasn't about data. The fight was about what fights are always about: money and power,” he said. “And the other side of this fight was the richest industry in the world at the time. So that's when we started building movements to try and have some kind of counterbalance to all that weight.”
And unfortunately, Foster said, so many think climate change is all a hoax.
“It was a very common topic to know about,” he said. “And the only issue was that everyone else's initial understanding of it was that it was a hoax. Parents knew about it and were actively telling their children that it was a hoax. If you do hear about it, it's, ‘Don't worry about it because it's not real.’"
Even so, many are moving forward, and more people are taking action.
“We aren't arguing with people that have decided to ignore science. We're now allowing the science to back up our actions,” he added. “Hope stems from action. Hope comes from action. It comes from actual steps being taken to safeguard our future.”
And although more people have poured into this movement, McKibben explained that wait time is short.
“We're reaching a point now where politicians and companies and things are starting to say, ‘Oh, we promise we'll go net-zero by 2050.’ A: 2050's long past the time when all of these politicians and CEOs will be in the grave, so, easy enough to say. And B: 2050 is too late," he said. "We need to know what you're going to do this decade. That's what scares me.”
Foster noted existential hope is lost to many people when it comes to climate change because of how massive the problem is. But because he’s seen it first-hand, it’s created a sense of urgency.
“My experience in Iceland, which was very similar of hiking on a glacier, literally in the five hours of us being up there, seeing the ice melt below us and seeing large, black dunes of sand that were from the melting that happened over the summer. I think that doesn't lose hope, but what that does is just sets a fire under you," he said.
And, he said, people don't have the luxury of losing hope.
“If we're going to give up on this, we're giving up on everyone else who had no impact on this," he said. "A lot of people that are in the global south that have just been living their lives not having the full benefits of the industrial revolution, still living in poverty, they don't deserve that future. They had nothing to do with our luxuries and our excessive pollution.”
McKibben explained that 350.org was the first iteration of the global climate movement. But now, 15 years later, people, especially young people, have stepped up and done incredible work with various other organizations and causes, like Sunrise Movement and the Green New Deal.
“And of course the world, young people, high school and junior high school students in these enormous campaigns, the Climate Strikers, everybody knows Greta Thunberg in Sweden, and they should, Greta's fantastic. She's one of my favorite people on earth to work with, but I think she'd be the first to say that the really good news is there are 10,000 Greta Thunbergs around the planet, and there are 10 million kids following,” McKibben said. “So this may be now the biggest movement that the planet's ever seen, which would be a good thing since it's the biggest problem the planet's ever seen.”
What's more, the conversation has shifted, Foster said, noting people are finding ways to be more impactful. And that takes more than just raising awareness.
“The goal is actually making action. Because raising awareness in people doesn't tangibly do things,” he explained. “That's only in the sphere of public awareness and public news. But if you actually want to impact governance and how we institute policies, we're going to actually have to lobby elected officials and actually pass legislation that makes sure that we have subsidies for renewable energy and that we are making subsidies for plastic pellets so that we aren't continuing to manufacture new plastic that is polluting our waters. And divesting from fossil fuel industries.”
Also important, Foster noted, is putting the pressure on those in charge.
“Marches and protests were the biggest things that's been happening up until the late 2000s,” he said. “Now the big shift is that, yes, we'll still protest, but we will now continually meet and continually be in the faces of elected representatives that have to make the change for people.”
Every quarter, the award-winning journalists at Inside Edition Digital dig into a specific topic, going deeper than daily news cycles allow to bring you The Issue, a series of articles and videos on a specific subject. For more of The Issue 3, where we're diving into generational change, click here.
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