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Failing Students on Climate Change

Photograph Source Leonhard Lenz

Last Friday hundreds of thousands of students around the globe walked out of classrooms to demand that our political leaders take concrete steps to address the deadly threat of climate change. They are right, of course, that the generations of their elders, from millennials to baby boomer grandparents, have failed in our responsibility to preserve a livable future for our ever more crowded, ever more polluted and ever more endangered planet.

And while that’s a sad statement to make, it is an undeniable truth and a shameful guilt that should cause every one of the “elders” to think long and hard about whether they’re making the world better or worse for our young people.

The movement, characterized by various identifiers such as #fridaysforfuture#schoolstrike4climate and #climatestrike, is vast and growing. The strikes by young people staring an unlivable future in the face are now massive, but were inspired by a 16-year old Swede, Greta Thunberg, who has now been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. As Thunberg famously addressed the United Nations climate conference in Poland earlier this year: “You say you love your children above all else, and yet you’re stealing their future in front of their very eyes.”

Truer words were never spoken. Just look at what these young people are up against. Here in the United States, the second-largest producer of greenhouse gasses in the world, we have a president who not only doesn’t believe 97 percent of the world’s scientists who acknowledge human-caused climate change, he demands that we exert “energy dominance” by drilling, fracking, pumping and burning more fossil fuels than any nation on the planet.

For decades our citizens have been told it was necessary to exploit every manner of fossil fuel because our national security relied on “energy independence” from foreign sources. It was bogus then and it’s bogus now. Had we spent a fraction of what has gone into subsidizing fossil fuel production on renewable resources, we would have true national security with independent distributed energy from solar panels, tidal generators and wind power. Instead, we got massive coal-fired power plants hooked to vast electrical grids that are susceptible to interruption and destruction by even the most primitive of means, to say nothing of their vulnerability to the sophisticated hacking of utility computer systems.

Despite the fact that we know this, look at the latest budget proposal from delusional President Trump. What gets increased funding? The military. Apparently Trump thinks more than $2 billion a day going into the so-called “defense” industry isn’t enough — despite that it comes out to a shocking $1.4 million a minute.

In the meantime, Trump’s budget slashes funding for renewable resources and environmental programs. This head-in-the-sand approach to the future thinks it’s prudent to increase pollution and concurrent deaths and illnesses of the population while chopping the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by a whopping 30 percent. And here in Montana, our legislators continue to try to maintain Colstrip’s outdated and massively polluting coal-fired power plants.

The young people are right to be outraged. But it’s also time for those who left youth behind to join them in demanding climate action by our so-called leaders. And if they feed us more of the same excuses, remind them that the 2020 elections are knocking on the door and we can do ourselves, our children, grandchildren and the beautiful blue planet we call home a great favor by sending the scoundrels packing. For more information, check out www.youthclimatestrikeus.org — and then demand the change we and they desperately need.

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George Ochenski is a columnist for the Missoulian, where this essay originally appeared.

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