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A movement is coming: Climate change and the youngest generation

Editor’s note: This is a guest blog by C.J. Mayer, a high school student in New York City; Next Generation asked C.J. to write several posts on climate and energy topics, and the following reflects his personal views.

As a 17-year-old high school student in Manhattan, I’m often struck by what seems to be a growing gap between the concerns my generation has about climate change, and the actions of our parents and leaders. My sense is that, in a few short years, the American public will see a dramatic shift from its current passivity about climate change, to one of more urgent action – due entirely to the fact that many more young people think addressing climate change should be a top priority.

Why should you care? 23.5 percent of the U.S. population is 17 or younger. We’re the ones who will have to deal with the long-term impact of climate change. But since we do not vote (yet), our opinions and what we care about are often dismissed.

If we don’t act, the consequences in NYC (as predicted by the EPA) will be an increase in sea level by 2.3 feet, an increase in average temperatures by 11 degrees and a quadrupled increase in frequency of deadly storms such as Hurricane Sandy. If abstract numbers don’t frighten you, here’s a concrete example. There is a bike-run-walk path that extends the length of Manhattan along the Hudson River and is one of my favorite places in the city. Part of the path is pictured below.

 

Riverside Park, where I will go run when I’m done writing

 

This is what Hurricane Sandy did to it.

The same path, completely submerged, the night of Hurricane Sandy

 

What the EPA’s analysis is telling us is simple: many of the places we know and love today may be destroyed.

So, is voting-aged America concerned about this? A Gallup poll in March shows that only 24 percent of Americans care a “great deal” about climate change, making it the second least cared about issue on the poll. Only 36 percent of Democrats, typically considered more sympathetic to this issue, said they worried a “great deal.” Another Gallup poll indicated that 42 percent of Americans believed concerns about climate change were exaggerated in the media. These polls only represent the views of the voting-age population.

But then what does the youngest generation think? I decided to perform an informal, decidedly unscientific survey (sample size of 37, as opposed to 513 with Gallup) of teenagers from my high school with a nearly identical layout as the Gallup poll. The survey indicated that 5 percent of the students thought the issue was exaggerated in the media, with 43 percent saying it was even underestimated. 51 percent of the students cared a great deal about climate change, making it the most important issue to the students by 18 percentage points. While the second least cared about issue in the 18 and older poll, climate change was the most important issue to the students.

The polls show that the coming-of-age generation cares about climate change, while the older generations don’t seem to care as much. Climate change is neither a debate nor a partisan issue for most of my generation. When asked whether climate change is a big deal, Democrat Chris R. (17) responded, “Of course I think it’s a huge issue.” Similarly, an anonymous Republican (17) said, “It’s a big deal, I’m concerned about it.” My generation is voting soon – politicians better be ready, because we’re ready to act.

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