This year, hurricanes have devastated Houston, Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, killing many and leaving millions without power or drinking water, or homeless.
Scientists warn that warming oceans are likely to make such storms — some of the most powerful ever recorded — increasingly common in the future. For us Long Islanders, on the five-year anniversary of Sandy, these storms are a strong foreshadowing of our community’s possible future. I’m terrified about my home in East Quogue, with more frequent and devastating storms becoming the norm. And I’m furious over the injustice that’s been served to my generation.
In November, world leaders met in Bonn, Germany, for the annual United Nations climate negotiations to discuss plans to address climate change. It was the 23rd annual conference, meaning the meetings have been occurring longer than I’ve been alive. In that time, global greenhouse gas emissions have doubled. Simply put, my generation is swiftly being robbed of its future.
The good news is we know who the culprits are.
For the past year, I’ve led a team of 15 young people from across the United States who attended the conference in Germany. Together, we’re part of SustainUS — a youth-led organization dedicated to advancing climate action through policy advocacy. We know our duty is to hold the federal and state governments accountable and represent the majority of Americans still dedicated to the Paris Agreement.
Throughout our country’s history, youth have been at the very core of its most salient social movements. In the fight for climate justice, we are leading with solutions.
Earlier this month, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco heard a lawsuit by a group of 21 people — ages 10 through 21 — who are suing the federal government. Their suit argues that the government’s inaction and blatant denial of climate change is putting at risk their fundamental rights to life, liberty and property. Their arguments were heard by a panel of three judges on Dec. 11, while the Trump administration pushes to have the case dismissed.
These plaintiffs, many of them not yet able to vote, are seeking to establish that a safe and healthy climate is a constitutional right for all Americans. They are utilizing a system created to hold the federal government accountable, a Founding Father’s foresight in checking governmental abuses of power.
Meanwhile, throughout the country, young people are joining the Sunrise Movement to take ownership of the 2018 elections. They’ll be pressuring candidates from both parties to sign the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge, to end the corruption of our elections by the culprits of climate change. The message is clear: candidates funded by the fossil fuel industry simply cannot call themselves champions of our generation.
Around the country, and around the world, you’ll find many examples of young people taking matters into their own hands to demand the world we know is possible. It’s a world powered by renewable energy, with healthy and safe jobs available for all of us, and defined by justice for those most impacted by these problems.
We didn’t cause this crisis, but we’re rising to the occasion of resistances because it’s the only choice we have. We’re doing whatever it takes — filling the streets of our hometowns, persuading our schools to divest their endowments from fossil fuels, electing climate leaders in our local and state offices, and appealing to the courts to demand justice be served.
We’re over half the world’s population — and that’s a force stronger than any superstorm.
Dineen O’Rourke grew up in East Quogue and is a recent graduate of Hampshire College in Massachusetts. She works with SustainUS, a nonprofit organization that empowers young people to advocate for justice and sustainability.