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Climate Strike: It’s time to join our youth

While young people are so important for the world seeing the moral clarity of climate action, it is absurd and unfair to ask them to shoulder the burden of building this future alone.

Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, center, joins in a youth climate change protest in front of the United Nations Headquarters in New York City on Sept. 6.
REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

On Friday I will follow the leadership of young people and join the Climate Strike.

What started as a school strike for climate by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg in August 2018 has coalesced with youth climate activism and leadership around the globe.

In the United States, I’ve been impressed with the leadership of young women of color leading in the youth climate space. Women like Isra Hirsi, executive director of US Climate Strike, Jamie Margolin, founder of This is Zero Hour, and Alexandria Villaseñor.

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Asking adults to join the climate strike

Y people are asking all generations to join them in the climate strike on Friday. It could be the largest mass climate action event the world has seen, with actions planned in 150 countries.

Kate Knuth
I will be joining a climate strike in Minnesota (details are here). I think you should join wherever you are. You can find a strike here, and more specifically in the U.S. here. I am excited to see this mass demonstration of climate action. It’s inspiring, hopeful, and it needs to spur real action to reduce emissions and prepare for the climate future coming.

It’s this spurring action part I’ve been thinking about a lot.

Any adult feeling inspired by the work of young climate leaders also needs to think hard about more than being inspired.

The question adults need to ask themselves

Adults inspired by youth climate leadership need to be asking the question: How do I use every bit of wisdom, of power, of influence, of money that I have to make sure I am doing my part to deliver on the future young people are demanding?

This is the question young people need adults to ask because it is only through the action of everyone that we have the chance to build a different kind of climate future. Because while young people are so important for the world seeing the moral clarity of climate action, it is absurd and unfair to ask them to shoulder the burden of building this future alone.

Personally, I’ve wrestled with the question of how to act on climate for years. It’s animated many of my choices about my career and life’s work. Back in 2006, my answer to the climate leadership call was a run for the Minnesota House of Representatives (it was successful). Earlier this year, I finished a dissertation about how to drive the kinds of transformational change needed to address climate change. Now, I’ve started Democracy and Climate as a platform to wrestle with this work and to strategically and nimbly take action in the best ways I can.

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If you’re still not sure where to start as an adult acting on climate, here’s a specific list of things I’ve been doing and am planning to do. Maybe some of them will inspire you and your networks.

Some specific climate actions I’m taking

  • Getting carbon out of personal transportation: This summer, my family and I bought an electric car and a cargo bike. The cargo bike is especially fun, turning day care drop-off, shopping, and trips to the playground into family adventures. We’re a one-car family who no longer burns gas! It’s super fun. Listening to my 3-year-old exclaim about all the exciting things we are biking past is pure joy.
  • Meeting with my state legislators: I recently got a legislative update from my state senator and representative. I was disappointed to see it didn’t mention climate change. It’s frustrating to see this missing leadership from elected officials, and I’m stepping up by setting up a meeting with both of them to discuss specific ways they can offer climate leadership.
  • Joining the neighborhood association board: Last spring, a neighbor roped me into joining my neighborhood association board, about as local democracy as you can get. I’m thinking strategically about how this group can take climate action.
  • Co-hosting a neighborhood climate happy hour: I’m lucky to live in a place where neighbors host regular happy hours and parties. I’m joining forces with the best happy hour organizer in the neighborhood. She’ll do the party; I’ll do the climate presentation. And we’ll all talk about our climate actions as individuals and together.
  • Writing: I’m convinced that very few people (or maybe any of us) really understand what’s necessary to do on climate. I’m committed to writing about climate, and especially its intersection with democracy, to help myself and others sort through the bigness of these challenges and find paths forward. Here’s a recent piece about the Green New Deal and collective action in the United States.
  • Contributing to climate work: As an adult, I have more financial resources than many young people, and I’m trying to be intentional about putting these resources to work on climate. I support climate organizations, donate to candidates leading on climate, and support local journalism through subscriptions and contributions to public media.
  • Learning with and working with young people: Over the last year, I’ve had the pleasure and honor of working with young people in Minnesota pushing to make progress on climate in the state, in particular on the Minnesota Green New Deal legislation. Working alongside young people, knowing all of us have much to learn from each other and to offer the work, has been exciting and reinvigorating. This cross-generational work can be challenging, and it’s also necessary.
  • Voting on climate: Every interaction I have with an elected official, including how I vote, is grounded in climate commitments. Given how important climate is increasingly important to voters in the U.S, I’m not the only one thinking this way.

Climate action is individual and collective

You’ll notice these actions are a mix of individual action, working with groups, connecting with friends, and of engaging in the political system. That’s intentional. To make needed progress on climate change, we need individuals, organizations, and whole systems to change. We need to bring climate into all of this work and these relationships.

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It’s a heady time to be working on climate change. On one hand, I see more possibilities of progress than I ever have before. The Global Climate Strike holds this big promise of progress. So do things like over 170 media organizations signing up for Covering Climate Now.

On the other hand, the fear and grief of the climate changes already unleashed is real, and as the parent of a young child I feel this every day. The only way I know how to hold the real potential of climate progress and the grief/fear of what may come is to knit them together through action and reflection.

That’s why I’m joining the Climate Strike. Even more, it’s why I see the joining the Climate Strike as a public commitment to young people, including my daughter, to do all I can to build the kind of future they are demanding.

How are you taking action coming out of this global event?

Kate Knuth, Ph.D., is a former three-term Minnesota legislator who later led a development program for graduate students at the U of M’s Institute on the Environment and served as Minneapolis’ first chief resilience officer. This essay was first published on her blog Democracy and Climate.

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