What Twenty-Somethings Want From The Paris Climate Talks

There's reason to be optimistic about the news coverage in advance of the Paris climate talks -- especially if you hope the conference succeeds in pivoting the world toward a healthier future for humanity.  Last week, New York Times writer Justin Gillis informed us that most countries have pledged their greenhouse gas emissions goals and that they represent the “biggest cut ever achieved,” which is fantastic news.  

But international pledges and agreements alone are not enough.   Both the NY Times and the Wall Street Journal editors suggest caution in such headlines as "The Tough Realities of the Paris Climate Talks,” (Nov.4) and “Why the Paris Climate Talks Won’t Amount to Much.” (Nov. 19)

It’s no secret that our climate problem is a grim one. It’s multifaceted and certainly not curable in a two-week-long meeting, even if it does bring together some 30,000 delegates and 150 heads of state and government, including the leaders of the U.S., China, and India.  

As a 25-year-old observer of all things related to climate change, I know that the 2015 Paris Climate Conference (COP21) has nonetheless been eagerly anticipated by Millennials (those born after 1980 and before 2000) and older generations alike. At the People’s Climate March in New York City last September -- strongly populated by the younger generation -- hundreds of thousands of people walked to raise awareness of the UN Climate Summit that was starting the next morning. Exceeding expectations, it became the largest climate march in history. 

The Millennial generation is concerned about such global issues as energy use, international conservation efforts, human rights abuses, and environmental justice. According to a 2011 Pew poll, almost two thirds of us believe the U.S. energy policy should focus on developing alternative energy sources. Many of us garden and bike to work. More of us are vegetarians than in the generation before us.  

Despite our readiness for active change, however, we’re receiving messages from daily news that the status quo may be the best we can do.  Even with the most anticipated climate meeting under way at last, much of the coverage is less than inspiring. Take for example The Wall Street Journal's coverage this week by Matt Ridley and Benny Peiser (Nov.27): “At the Paris conference, expect an agreement that is sufficiently vague and noncommittal for all countries to gain victory.” Not the most mobilizing of sentiments.

Perhaps more compellingly, the climate activism organization 350.org’s climate chairman K.C. Golden -- also one of Seattle Magazine’s “Power 25” most influential people -- told The LA Times last week that a carbon emissions agreement in Paris would measure if “we have the guts and the brains and the will to wage and win our best and only viable future”...a clean energy future. Having learned in school of the environmental issues and efforts of previous generations, 20-somethings have acquired a lot of knowledge and backbone to overcome inertia, resist the status quo, and expedite our society's transition to clean energy. 

Over the next two weeks, the Paris Talks encourage each country to "ratchet up their commitments" to reducing carbon emissions, as Times’s Justin Gillis recently reported. Then, perhaps, daily news can begin to factor in climate action on the individual and local levels as well on the policy level.

Judging by efforts such as the grassroots campaign 10,000 Rain Gardens in Kansas City, Kansas, which developed thousands of gardens to capture rainfall and improve the local drinking supply, individuals and organizations are already encouraging significant changes in our living and energy use habits. Another example comes from earlier this year in my home state of Oregon. A group of 200 “kayaktivists,” a determined group of water-based climate activists, took to their local Willamette River to protest the continuing ecological threats posed by Arctic oil drilling, and effectively forced an Arctic-bound Shell icebreaker to turn around.

There is no doubt that my generation is very aware of the issues, and capable of taking action.  But we'd like to know now, that our efforts, wherever we live, are being acknowledged and taken seriously by those who help frame our daily discourse. 

Becca Cudmore is a freelance writer and a master's graduate of NYU's science journalism program.

Becca CudmoreComment