Young activists are engaged in disruptive and remarkably effective protests on one particular issue: climate change. That they have been able to draw so much attention to their protests and to the issue which animates them is an excellent indication of the issue’s salience.
And make no mistake: Climate change is a serious threat. It is likely ravage coastlines, worsen flooding, and generally lead to lower standards of living for future generations. It may even disrupt core elements of civilization and require drastic “carbon austerity” (i.e., the immediate cessation of many carbon-emitting activities) or geoengineering.
The youth protests are unique in that they demonstrate a particularly disturbing aspect of the policy discussion with respect to climate change: the old have largely ceded the fight. America’s political class has repeatedly been willing to kick the can down the road with respect to issues like climate change, and it is both egregious and infuriating.
It should not be surprising that young people have begun to rise up and demand change. In a society controlled by 70-year-old toddlers (really, the American political establishment looks more and more like this every day) someone has to look at the room and say “enough”.
As to those who lament that this represents a rejection of the current economic status quo, they are right: It is a rejection, and rightly so. Young people have already been buffeted by recessions, wars, surveillance, and rising inequality. It should not be surprising that, in the face of an existential threat like climate change, they have decided that enough is enough.