The narrative of today’s youth rising up to fix a global economy powered by cheap hydrocarbons is just that. A story. And a fictional one.
A protest in Princeton, New Jersey, drew a few dozen high school and college students on a warm sunny day when an estimated 1.5 million youth took to the streets worldwide to protest the ineffective government response to the growing threats of a changing climate.
The local rally was organized by high school students. A tiny fraction of the 1,600 strong student body was in attendance (and their number was likely helped by a few college kids). The protest lasted less than 30 minutes. By lunchtime the only evidence anything at all had occurred in the plaza was a sign protesting a planned natural gas pipeline through the area and a state assemblyman eating takeout.
A few dozen kids standing there almost totally alone. Their peers no doubt busy planning their futures. Their parents no doubt toiling away at work. Yet this occurred in a town populated by wealthy progressives. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 4 to 1. There aren’t many climate change deniers among this bunch.
But to declare this a symptom of weak political conviction requires a point of comparison.
The largest rally over the last quarter century occurred in the same plaza on March 24, 2018. The subject: gun violence in America’s schools. The precipitating event: a high school shooting in Florida that killed 17 people weeks prior. The turnout: thousands. Thousands of kids, their parents, and their grandparents packed together and spilling into the streets well beyond the plaza itself.
It couldn’t be clearer which subject ignites more passion. And passion is the seed necessary to create the appeal to an ever broader coalition. The broad coalition that forges the political will to carry out policy serving the greater number rather than the greater power.
The movement to reduce gun violence in America has passion. Efforts to fight climate change and its effects lags way behind. The emotional investment needed is unlikely to come without its own series of tragedies. A spike in food prices due to shortages. A devastating series “500-year” storms occurring in quick succession. Or diseases once rare that become endemic in densely populated regions.
Until then, the climate change response of most American governments will remain gentle and insufficient.