AN INDIGNANT YOUTH
Our global society is suffering from environmental malaise and inaction. While the scientific evidence overwhelmingly shows that man-made carbon emissions are causing global warming, there remains a distinct lack of urgency to address the daunting issue.
The renewed focus on climate change that became mainstream in the early part of the new millennium has since been eroded as attention has shifted to the global economic recovery following 2008’s financial crisis. The debate is particularly problematic in the United States, as it remains one of the worst polluters on the planet. While nations like China race towards clean energy technology, the U.S. is still caught arguing over the basic question of whether humans are having an adverse impact on the environment.
As the supposed serious people fumble over how to solve the ongoing crisis, there remains hope in a handful of youth activists, a group of environmental visionaries. One extraordinary example of leadership is exemplified by Alec Loorz who has shouldered the responsibility to fight for the rights of his generation and planet, both of which lack a strong voice to defend themselves. Taking direct action, these environmental fighters are having tangible effects on people’s lives, but what may be even more important than the measurable results is the message they are catalyzing to both peers and policymakers.
Alec has been rallying his friends and community to take action against climate change since the age of 12. Now 17 his evolution has transformed him from a youth activist to a mainstream figure in the struggle to curb carbon emissions. He has given over 200 presentations that have reached nearly 20,000 people. Alec was compelled to action after seeing former Vice President Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth which documents the scientific evidence behind human induced climate
change. “Something deep inside clicked,” he recounts. Initially, the 12-year-old applied to become a certified presenter of Mr. Gore’s presentation, but was turned down due to age. Undeterred by skeptical elders and peers, Alec learned Gore’s Power Point, and began spreading messages about the dire consequences of our past environmental misdeeds, calling for immediate action. Alec makes a strong argument that the younger generations have the most to lose from environmental degradation. Their voice is diminished and they lack the money and power to battle the corporate interests intent on maintaining the status quo. Understandably, it has not always been easy for Alec. He has struggled with despair wondering whether anyone, let alone a teenager, could actually change the embedded habits and addictions of our society. When the going gets tough, he recounts one of his favorite quotes by David Brower: “I’m always impressed with what young people can do before older people tell them that it is impossible.” Alec reminds us that while the youth may lack deep coffers or influence, they undoubtedly hold the moral authority in the debate. They are the victims of their parents’ and grandparents’ unsustainable lifestyles and dependence on fossil fuels.
Age seems to present both up and downsides to Alec’s voice. He believes that his peers can better relate to his account of the situation rather than hearing lectures from older authoritative figures. Adults definitely take notice when such a young figure is so passionate about something rather than falling into the stereotype of an apathetic teenager. On the other hand, “I have at times experienced ageism, even within the environmental community.” Critics and skeptics only serve to further motivate him.
As this summer approached, Alec decided to take a direct stand by being the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against the United States government. Complaints filed in all 50 States cite the Public Trust Doctrine, arguing that the government has failed in their responsibilities to protect the atmosphere. Legal scholars have mixed feelings about this road to remedy.
Although there is precedent for using the Public Trust Doctrine in environmental issues, many judges hesitate to engage in what many consider a legislative issue. The suit seeks to peak emissions this year with a subsequent 6 percent reduction in global carbon dioxide levels annually. This is especially important for the developed nations who contribute the vast majority of carbon emissions. The plaintiffs also call for reforestation, especially in the tropics where rainforests have been obliterated at an alarming rate. Aside from the questionable jurisdiction of courts on the subject, a six percent annual reduction of carbon dioxide levels is a lofty goal, and perhaps politically impossible. While the legal hurdles may be too high, the true victory could come in the form of the awareness raised rather than a court decision, “We need a spiritual shift in hearts and minds,” says Alec.
To support the legal actions, Alec has organized worldwide iMatter marches throughout the summer of 2011 via his organization, Kids vs Global Warming. The protests included 160 events spanning 45 countries across the globe. He brags that one march was even led by the son of a Kuwaiti oil executive. These marches are a vital tactic to achieve the ultimate strategic goal of spreading environmentally conscious ideas. If the legal actions are unsuccessful, a message of youth indignation will remain.
The iMatter marches have a collective of goals, one being to spur a grassroots movement that puts pressure on our politicians to act. Alec affirms that, “we’re not going to just sit here and watch.” An additional ambition of the campaign is to mobilize the participants to go on to be leaders in their own communities, igniting a viral and exponential shift in attitude towards climate change.
Alec Loorz had an extraordinary vision at an incredibly young age. Perhaps his naïveté allowed him to take up the fight against such extreme odds, but his continued commitment is something truly admirable. This teenager has neither vested interests nor financial incentives to battle polluters. He merely wants to save the only home we have. Alec’s lawsuit probably won’t result in a legal mandate to reduce carbon emissions; it is what he stands for that will ultimately impact all of our lives. As the stories spread, we can be inspired to take a look at what we are doing to fight climate change and how we are lending our hands to our future.