Yes, Young Voices Matter
Updated: Jul 30, 2020
By: Chloe Moore
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re hearing a lot about the need for younger generations to practice social distancing to limit the spread of the disease and protect older folks. This is an important topic, but the responsibility goes both ways. Older generations also have a responsibility to younger generations regarding the protection and preservation of a livable climate and viable economy.
When we consider the distinction between those who make climate policy and those who will live with the effects, we must apply a generational justice framework to the debate. That means recognizing the responsibility of older generations to frame policy with the longevity of the environment in mind, rather than around their own profit. It also means, however, recognizing that younger generations have a responsibility to demand climate justice, for the sake of future generations.
Our discourse about intergenerational power dynamics, responsibilities, and the policy implications of these relationships must go beyond “Okay, boomer” memes. The current U.S. court case Juliana vs. United States seeks to enshrine the right to a safe and livable climate as an inalienable right. The youth plaintiffs argue that the right to environmental security is included under the constitutional rights, and by refusing to prioritize climate solutions, the United States is violating those rights.
The United Nation’s Declaration of the Rights of the Child also enshrines the right to “the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child,” as well as “the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health” and the right to “the provision of adequate nutritious foods and clean drinking-water, taking into consideration the dangers and risks of environmental pollution.”
Clearly, there already exists an international legal framework to protect these rights. If we consider the state as the adult in this situation, there is an established responsibility upon that party to protect the climate for younger generations.
What Comes Next
This responsibility goes both ways. Younger generations have a responsibility to demand climate justice from our current, older policymakers. It’s not just our own climate security at stake — we owe it to future generations to provide and protect a sustainable climate and economy. As the youth increasingly become a political identity, we must thoroughly consider the ways in which age grants power and responsibility.
There is privilege in being old enough and powerful enough to shape climate policy, and to shape it knowing one will not reckon with its effects. There is also power in being young enough to be constantly energized by the need to fight for our future. A generational justice framework allows young activists to fight for themselves, and it creates a mandate for us to fight for posterity.
Chloe Moore is a senior from Ithaca, NY, working in gun violence prevention, reproductive justice, and feminist storytelling.