1. Update
  2. Environment & Energy

Faith Restored After a Week of Youth Climate Activism

By Alicia Cannon, September 25, 2019


As a 22-year-old, I fall into the “transitional generation.” We exist somewhere between millennials and Generation Z—so I’ve become well-versed in all the critiques of both groups. I came of age hearing that millennials were politically apathetic and civically disengaged, and that Gen Z was too busy with their phones to take charge of the world. As a collective group of young people, adults perceived us as lazy, uninterested and detached from reality. Or so they thought.

After a series of interactions with ambitious young climate activists last week, I’m convinced that it’s time to put that narrative to bed. My faith in youth political participation has been reenergized, renewed, and restored, thanks to Greta Thunberg, a group of middle schoolers, and millions of climate strikers across the world.

Tandem Friends School students on the Capitol Steps

Tandem Friends School students after a successful lobby visit. Emily Sajewski / FCNL

You have likely heard of Greta Thunberg by now. The 16-year-old first came into the public eye when she called for climate solutions by protesting alone outside of the Swedish parliament last year. Now, she is famous for galvanizing youth climate strikes around the world. She sailed across the Atlantic to attend this week's U.N. Climate Summit, but made a stop in Washington, D.C. to persuade Congress to "unite behind the science" and urgently enact climate legislation.

In addition to Thunberg’s appearance, FCNL climate lobbyist Emily Wirzba and I had the pleasure of taking middle schoolers from Tandem Friends School to lobby Rep. Denver Riggleman’s (VA-5) staff. Before the visit, we trained them on how to share their stories and include a legislative ask, which in this case was to join the Climate Solutions Caucus. Although these kids were no older than 13, they knew some very specific statistics about clean energy tax credits and sea level rise that surprised even me.

While the students were delivering their legislative ask on the Capitol steps, Thunberg silently walked past, on her way to give a historic speech in front of Congress. Although they were delivering their messages to different audiences, both Thunberg and the Tandem students were motivated and excited to talk to legislators. They knew that their opinions, stories, and presence mattered.

The week culminated with the Washington, D.C. Climate March on Sept. 20. The event in D.C. was just one of many climate strikes across the globe, and with thousands in attendance, it was easy to feel the scale of the movement. We saw the strength of these young activists firsthand, as they shared their stories and frustrations. With hope and passion, their call for Congress to pass comprehensive climate solutions broke generational divides.

Whether you’re leading a global event or writing letters to your representative, your voice matters.

After the Climate March, feeling sweaty and empowered as we returned to the office, we finally had a chance to read our emails for the day. We saw that after reading the hand-written letters from the Tandem students and hearing their passionate testimony, Rep. Riggleman had decided to join the Climate Solutions Caucus.

The message from the week was clear: Any time you engage with the political process, you are making a difference. Whether you’re leading a global event or writing letters to your representative, your voice matters.

I am inspired by the younger generation. Even though they cannot vote yet, they realize that the decisions made by the government, specifically surrounding environmental protections and regulations, affect people of all ages. Favorite animals are going extinct. Hurricanes are blowing over treasured homes. Extreme heat cancels after-school sports practices. Climate change truly impacts us all.

Let us learn from these young activists. We need to build on the momentum they generated and urge Congress to take steps towards bipartisan climate legislation.

Update Six Ways to Save the planet – and Ourselves  

This is powerful: hundreds of thousands of people across the globe will participate in a #climatestrike this week through creative, grassroots campaigns and actions. This dramatic momentum will push the demand to reduce carbon emissions. It will raise awareness, and it will spur commitment to change–change that must happen in business and industry, in schools and local communities, and especially policy change by national governments.

Alicia Cannon

  • Program Assistant, Sustainable Energy and Environment

Alicia is the Program Assistant for Sustainable Energy and Environment. She advocates for the preservation of the environment, recognition of climate change, and the enactment of legislation that promotes sustainable solutions to our current climate crisis. She meets members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to promote FCNL’s environmental policy.