The Nation’s Youth Demand Action on Climate Change

The Nation’s Youth Demand Action on Climate Change

Dreary weather and constant rain did not stop hundreds from turning out for Saturday’s Youth Climate March in Washington, D.C. The diverse crowd included families from Kansas City, youth who protested the Dakota Access Pipeline on the Standing Rock Reservation, and residents of the Marshall Islands who have seen firsthand how rising sea levels threaten their communities.

Young people were both the symbolic and actual leaders of this movement: The Youth Climate March was hosted by ZeroHour, an activist group with about 40 core members, most of whom are still in high school. Founder Jamie Margolin, 16, self-identifies as “#GenZ” in her Twitter bio. 

Generation Z is the age group younger than millennials, who overwhelmingly believe that anthropogenic climate change is real and a serious threat. A 2015 Pew survey showed that 52 percent of people ages 18 to 29 said climate change is a very serious problem, and more recent data shows that 81 percent of millennials say there is solid evidence for global warming. The recent student-led gun-control movement is just one indication that Generation Z could be even more progressive than their generational predecessors. Margolin said that ZeroHour learned from past marches, such as the February 21 March for Our Lives and the Families Belong Together march in June, but she and other organizers realized that high turnout wasn’t their only goal.

“We see mass mobilizations but we don’t see the change that we need,” she told the Prospect. “That’s why we came up with a platform of what we, the youth, need in order to have a livable future.” 

The ZeroHour platform specifies the need to listen to people whose daily lives have already been affected by climate change and calls for adding climate change to the political conversation for the midterm elections. 

The leaders of ZeroHour aim to make it an inclusive and worldwide initiative. “ZeroHour is not just [saving] the planet,” Margolin said. “It’s about the communities that have already been impacted, the lives that have already been lost. That’s who we’re fighting for, that’s what we’re fighting for.” 

Kibiriti Majuto, 20, who led the effort to write ZeroHour’s platform, added that the group addresses the responsibility of the United States, as the world’s second-highest greenhouse gas–emitting country, to fight climate change. Majuto also said there needs to be a “just transition” away from fossil fuels, but that transition needs to guarantee protection for marginalized communities and youth.

Majuto, who was granted asylum from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2012, said that the march’s message came from “a lot of collaboration with young people across the country and the world … different parts that are mostly impacted by climate change.” 

“The people who are at the receiving end of oppression are feeling the worst effects of the climate crisis, so we are fighting to uplift those voices,” Margolin explained. 

The march was a culmination of three “days of action” in the District that included a day of lobbying on Capitol Hill on Thursday and community art festival on Friday. Margolin said that ZeroHour representatives talked to almost half of all the senators, including Bernie Sanders, Tammy Duckworth, and Patty Murray. Majuto is not optimistic that lobbying will spur change.

“We know they’re not going to do anything,” Majuto said, expressing his pessimism about the lobbying effort. But Margolin hopes these conversations will make climate change an important issue advance of the midterm elections. ZeroHour members handed out a No Fossil Fuel Money pledge to members of Congress, asking them to divest from the fossil fuel industry and to stop taking campaign contributions from the industry.

When asked which members ZeroHour was targeting, Margolin’s answer was decisive: “Anyone who takes money from the fossil fuel industry has to go.” 

Come September, many of the young activists will return to school—Margolin to her junior year of high school in Seattle and Majuto to Piedmont Virginia Community College. But Margolin said that won’t stop the work of ZeroHour.