Wednesday in juxtapositions were four young climate activists, demanding immediate action to mitigate and adapt to climate change, seated across from members of Congress who requested they be there — members who were two generations or more older than the people testifying before them, and less likely to move quickly on climate policy.
The hearing was a joint effort of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis and the House Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, Energy and the Environment.
U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-1 and member of the climate crisis committee, put his question to Benji Backer, president of the American Conservation Coalition, a group of young conservatives who seek a voice in creating and implementing policies on topics related to environmental conservation.
“Do you think the state of our economy and the need to maintain a robust economy — because after all, you’re all going to be participating in our economy, and in a way you already are, but in the future you will be even more,” Carter said. “It’s important that we have a robust economy so that we’ll be able to provide jobs for young people and for all of our citizens. But, do you think it’s important to consider that, considering climate change?”
Backer said an economic focus is key because otherwise there’s a risk of leaving behind the people least financially able to adapt to problems created or exacerbated by climate change.
“There is an opportunity, a strong opportunity to be economically sensible and environmentally sensible,” Backer said. “Economic sustainability and environmental sustainability do go hand-in-hand. I think a lot of people who are on this issue and believe that this is a topic of importance believe that the agricultural industry, corporations and fossil fuels are, a lot of the times, the enemy. But, they’re part of our society, and they are today and they will be for the next — at least for the short-term.
“If we want to lower emissions and we want to have a cleaner economy, we have to work with people instead of against people. Because the only way we’re going to truly reduce emissions is to do that, and that is true with the economy.”
The star of the panel, Greta Thunberg, made a name for herself calling for students to strike for action on climate change, beginning herself in August 2018 in a demonstration outside the Swedish parliament.
Eschewing a transatlantic fight to the United States and the emissions involved in such an endeavor, she instead boarded a 60-foot racing yacht that had solar panels and underwater turbines to make the trip from the United Kingdom to New York.
In her opening remarks to the joint committee, Thunberg said she didn’t intend to have a prepared statement, but wanted the members of Congress to read the October 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change regarding global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius.
“I am submitting this report as my testimony, because I don’t want you to listen to me, I want you to listen to the scientists, and I want you to unite behind the science,” Thunberg said. “And then I want you to take real action.”
Also testifying Wednesday were Jamie Margolin — co-founder of This Is Zero Hour, which among other things led youth climate marches in Washington, D.C., and more than 25 other cities last year — and Vic Barrett, who spoke to the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in 2015 and is one of the youth plaintiffs in the climate lawsuit Juliana v. United States.
Margolin said in her prepared statement that her generation has been and is being fed lies on their future and potential, because of inaction now on climate change by the powers that be.
“The most frustrating thing is that the U.S. government can’t even begin to imagine the massive political shift that has to happen in order for us to solve this issue,” Margolin stated. “Solving the climate crisis, goes against what this country was unfortunately built on, colonialism, slavery and natural resource extraction. This is why youth are calling for a new era all together.
“The IPCC report that we have only a few months left in order to create the massive political shift needed to transition our world to an entirely renewable energy economy. This needs to happen within the next 10 years, which is our deadline to save life as we know it. People call my generation, Generation Z, as if we are the last generation. But we are not. We are refusing to be the last letter of the alphabet.”
Barrett is a first-generation Garifuna-American whose ancestors were pushed off the Caribbean island of St. Vincent by the British and resettled in what’s now Honduras and Belize. He said the oceanfront land his family inhabited for generations, and he’s to inherit, will be underwater if governments like the United States continue backing fossil fuel based economies.
“In order to begin to address the devastating impacts of climate change, including the physical and emotional toll that climate change is having on me and my peers, the federal government must halt its actions that promote fossil fuels and cause climate change — now,” Barrett stated in his prepared remarks.
“For years, the federal government and the same adults who created the disaster have marginalized us. No more. Climate change is here now. Waiting for the future is already too late.”