We didn’t start the fire
Gen Z grapples with our new climate reality
Growing up in the wake of constant wildfires, hurricanes and droughts, Gen Z is numb to severe weather and the adverse conditions that come with global warming.
With roots tracing back to the Industrial Revolution, climate change has exponentially grown in severity every year, with no sign of cessation.
“[Experiencing these weather events] was just how I lived,” said California native Maddie Mester, a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. “I knew that every October it was normal to smell a wildfire, and it never really shaped my perspective on the urgent need for climate action.”
In the past 20 years, Gen Z has endured countless humanitarian disasters caused by climate change. From the drought that ravaged the Southwestern United States from 2020 to 2022 to the recent wildfires in Maui, tangible devastation is increasingly widespread.
Availability of resources such as clean water, varieties of produce and raw materials hang in a treacherous balance. If tactics go unchanged, this delicate balance will have devastating consequences on the global economy and humanity at large.
Movements like The Climate Reality Project and the Sunrise Movement, among other forms of activism, demonstrate just how underwhelmed and disappointed many feel in response to climate action in the government and private sectors.
“I really hope that I see more strict regulations about the amount of CO2 emissions companies are allowed to release,” said Christy Holliday, a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. “I hope the government will start taxing them for whatever amount of [emissions] they release a year.”
Holliday’s statement echoes many other students’ frustrations with major corporations and institutions of previous generations that caused the damage Gen Z either has to fix or live with.
The impending 2024 presidential election holds the same delicate balance between promise and peril.
The Republican Party candidates, including former President Donald Trump, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, all have similar outlooks and plans on climate change: further capitalize on fossil fuels, cut spending on renewable energy and focus on reeling in any progress President Joe Biden has made regarding these issues.
As only 13 percent of Republican voters regard climate change as a top political priority, according to the Pew Research Center, this agenda may continue to gain momentum.
“I think that administrations and governments around the world need to start prioritizing environmental and human health and let economics take the back seat,” said Alicia DeBruin, a graduate student in the College of Arts and Sciences who recently completed an internship at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The Democratic presidential candidates, including incumbent Joe Biden, writer and activist Marianne WIlliamson and environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. promise to expand sustainable infrastructure and access to clean energy. However, Biden’s efforts thus far have been only inching towards real progress.
“The United States could be so influential in international climate policy,” DeBruin said. “I think [current actions being taken] by the rest of the world show that we aren’t that serious. I also think it shows our generation that we really will be the ones to deal with it.”
On Sept. 20, Biden announced the creation of the American Climate Corps, which is a “workforce training and service initiative that will ensure more young people have access to the skills-based training necessary for good-paying careers in the clean energy and climate resilience economy.”.
The Corps are a product of efforts from the Sunrise Movement and approval from climate-concerned politicians such as Rep. Alexandria Oscazio-Cortez, Sen. Ed Markey and Sen. Bernie Sanders. The American Climate Corps are intended to place a widespread emphasis on the future of climate change and use government resources to adapt to it.
“Through the American Climate Corps — much like the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s — a whole new generation of Americans can step up to restore our lands and waters, install and maintain clean energy infrastructure, and build healthier and more resilient communities,” New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich wrote in a statement.
According to NASA’s Earth Science Communications Team, the damage humanity has done to the planet is irreversible. As Gen Z matures and shoulders the destruction current and past entities perpetuate, many can only hope that policymakers and industries can keep up the momentum and ensure the Earth is habitable in this revolutionary era.
This article was edited by Soumya Sahay, Patricia McGee and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis,Olivia Citarella and Charlie Mennuti.