Youth hold up signs calling for an end to greenhouse gas emissions during a climate strike in 2019.
Youth participating in a climate strike in 2019. Credit: Osama Bhutta / Flickr Credit: Osama Bhutta / Flickr

When I met climate activist Greta Thunberg in 2019, I apologized for what she’s had to do and has done so successfully as a young person: raise the alarm about the catastrophic consequences of failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It shouldn’t be youth’s job. Parents and elders should be warriors for the children’s future so they can be free to live full lives — to explore the world outside the protective nest, meet new people, form new friendships, learn about the world, find what they like and don’t like.

It’s never too late for the not-so-young to pick up the pace on climate action — but youth are tired of waiting for grownups to do the right thing. This month marks another round of global youth climate strikes, over the September 15 to 17 weekend. Young people are demanding a “rapid, just, and equitable end to fossil fuels.” That includes no new fossil fuels, a rapid, just and equitable phase-out, new commitments for international cooperation, an end to “greenwashing,” holding polluters responsible for the damage they’re causing and halting fossil fuel corporate capture — “corporations writing the rules of climate action, bankrolling or participating in climate talks, or undermining the global response to climate change.”

If older generations truly cared about our children and grandchildren and those yet to be born, we’d listen up and stop delaying. We can’t let the fossil fuel industry and its allies continue to block and stall climate action.

The world has put off acting on the climate crisis for so long that we now have months — if not weeks and days — rather than years, to seriously turn things around. Every molecule of carbon dioxide we emit into the atmosphere today remains for hundreds of years, fuelling the ever-increasing, unpredictable events we’re already seeing worldwide: floods, droughts, heat domes, atmospheric rivers, melting polar ice, heating oceans, growing numbers of climate migrants… Every delay in rapidly shifting to renewable energy increases costs and challenges and sets us up for accelerating severe consequences.

The youth climate strikes are timely. As they wrap up, oil and gas industry representatives will meet in Calgary, from September 17 to 21, for the World Petroleum Congress, billed as “Energy Transition: The Path to Net Zero.”

On September 20, representatives from around the world will gather in New York for the Climate Ambition Summit, convened by United Nations secretary general António Guterres to “accelerate action by governments, business, finance, local authorities and civil society” and demonstrate “that there is collective global will to accelerate the pace and scale of a just transition to a more equitable renewable-energy based, climate-resilient global economy.”

And from November 30 to December 12, representatives from almost all nations will meet in the United Arab Emirates for COP28, the 28th UN Conference of the Parties on climate change.

Those events and others should provide a spark of optimism for youth — and everyone who cares about our collective future. But young people know optimism isn’t enough, especially in the face of industry greenwashing. That COP28 is being held in an oil-producing country known for serious human rights violations and is being headed by an oil industry executive has led to cynicism and calls for a boycott.

The Petroleum Congress’s focus on the energy transition and net zero leans heavily on technologies and products that will keep profits rolling in — such as carbon capture and storage, which is expensive, largely unproven and only captures production emissions and not the far greater emissions from burning the fuels. Most of the panels are made up of people from industry and oil-producing countries. And some focus on topics such as new technologies for expanded fracking!

The Climate Ambition Summit, with its focus on “ambition, credibility and implementation,” offers a bit more hope, and Guterres has been a powerful champion for climate justice and action, but as young people know, massive collective action is often needed to move politicians to act.

There’s no shortage of solutions, as research by the David Suzuki Foundation and others has repeatedly shown. We owe it to the youth, and to ourselves and this beautiful world, to support their movements, join their strikes and accelerate all our efforts to resolve the climate crisis.

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with David Suzuki Foundation Senior Writer and Editor Ian Hanington.

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David Suzuki

David Suzuki

David Suzuki is co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation, an award-winning scientist, environmentalist and broadcaster. He is also a renowned rabble-raiser. The David Suzuki Foundation works...