Suzuki: We shouldn’t expect the kids to clean up our mess

I turned 75 in March. That means I probably won’t be around to see the worst impacts of climate change or any other looming environmental disasters—or the much brighter future that may emerge if we get off our butts to address the problems.

But I’m also a father and grandfather, and because I care about my children and grandchildren, and all the world’s children, I continue to work and to speak out about environmental challenges and solutions.

Climate change is already having noticeable impacts around the world, including food shortages, increasing extreme weather events, shrinking glaciers and ice caps, and rising sea levels.

We’ve already upset the atmospheric carbon balance, so the more we ignore the problem, the worse it will get.

It’s unconscionable that we would condemn our children and grandchildren to an increasingly bleak future, especially when readily available solutions would help to resolve many other global problems.

Cleaner sources of energy would reduce pollution and the health problems that go along with it. Improving social justice would help give people the time, resources, and inclination to focus on environmental issues and improving their quality of life.

Reducing our reliance on fossil fuels would resolve crises that threaten political and economic stability.

It shouldn’t be up to young people to clean up the messes we have made.

After all, we don’t even allow them to vote—to choose who will make decisions on their behalf.

And they will be most affected by the decisions made today.

But because so many adults have abdicated their responsibility to the world and its children, youth are taking matters into their own hands.

One young person in the U.S., 16-year-old Alec Loorz, is even taking his government to court over its inaction on climate change.

He and others have launched actions against state and federal governments in an attempt to have the atmosphere declared a “public trust” that must be protected, a concept that has been used to clean up polluted rivers and coastlines.

“We will let the world know that climate change is not about money, it’s not about power, it’s not about convenience,” he says.

“It’s about our future. It’s about the survival of this and every generation to come.”

Alec Loorz started an organization called iMatter when he was just 13.

He has rallied youth from around the world to march during the second week of May to raise awareness about climate change.

He argues that children have “the moral authority” to ask their parents and leaders, “Do I matter to you?”

It’s a question that deserves an answer. For many adults, the honest answer would have to be, “No, we’re more concerned about cheap gas, the economy, profits for the fossil fuel industry, and having more stuff.”

Reading about Alec Loorz reminded me of the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

My daughter Severn, who was just 12, gave a speech that silenced the delegates and brought many to tears.

During her talk she asked the adults, “Are we even on your list of priorities?” She also reminded them that “losing a future is not like losing an election or a few points on the stock market.”

After her speech, a reporter said to her, “Yeah, we’ve done a pretty lousy job of taking care of the environment, but you kids are different; you’ll lead the way.”

I was astonished by her reply. “Oh,” she said, “Is that the excuse for adults to do nothing? Besides, you are our role models. We copy what you do, so how can you expect us to be any different?”

Severn is now a mother herself, and I’m proud that she takes her commitment to her child and to all children seriously.

As well as being a great mom, she works hard to raise awareness about environmental issues through her writing, speaking, and TV appearances.

We owe it to our children and grandchildren to help clean up the messes we’ve made.

We also owe them respect and support when they get involved and push us to do more for the world.

Parents must become eco-warriors on behalf of their children, because their future should be as important to us as it is to them.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation communications and editorial specialist Ian Hanington.



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