Young People Should Lead the Way on Environmental Issues

**Opinions reflect those of the author and not necessarily those of ACC as a whole.

Environmental activism has become an integral part of our political discourse, but for some reason, we’re under the impression that there is only one way to advocate for the environment.  Many environmental activists argue for government mandates that will limit carbon emissions or ban straws. While these efforts are admirable because they are aimed at making a difference in the air we breathe or the water that turtles swim in, they are not the only ways to advocate for a cleaner Earth.

The free market has historically improved American life much more than the government has. Free market capitalism encourages innovation and competition, which, in turn, has produced huge advancements in human life. For instance, you probably wouldn't be reading this blog on a smartphone – or even a laptop for that matter – without capitalism.

No matter how one advocates for conserving the environment, it is important that young people engage in this activism because the Earth is really ours to cherish or destroy. Protecting the environment should not be a partisan issue, and by advocating for all kinds of different solutions, we’re headed in the right, bipartisan direction. We get into trouble when we allow ourselves to believe that there is only one moral solution to a problem, and if someone doesn't subscribe to that solution, he or she is somehow evil.

With all kinds of political issues, we are able to have a discourse in which both sides realize there is a problem. Once we agree that we need a solution, the discourse can be respectful and a compromise can be reached. Both sides of the aisle are guilty of hyper-focusing on their specific solution and not the issue at large. After all, we know that Earth’s temperature has increased 1.62 degrees since the late 1800s, and 2016 was the warmest year on record. We see the effects of rising temperatures in elevated sea levels, extreme weather, and melting snow caps and glaciers. It’s not a partisan talking point to say that the earth is getting warmer, and the effects are evident all around us.

For us to properly address environmental issues, we have to move past calling others “climate-change deniers” or insulting each other’s intelligence. Some will believe it is the government’s place to protect the environment, and others will assert that the free market must be trusted with this task. We shouldn't spend our time deeming opinions inferior; instead, we should work toward solutions that make use of all the opinions in the conversation. Young people are responsible for the future of political discourse in this country, and it is a responsibility that we must take seriously.

Some students and young adults are stepping up to the plate when it comes to environmental activism, regardless of partisanship. The Sierra Club has a student division, appropriately named the Sierra Student Coalition, that is entirely student-led. Zero Hour, which was profiled by the New York Times earlier this year, is a coalition of teenagers who organized a climate change protest on the National Mall this summer. These two organizations are left-leaning and work toward governmental reform in order to protect the future of the environment. On the other hand, the ACC and other organizations like Young Conservatives for Energy Reform are promoting environmental reform from the perspective of free-market solutions and personal responsibility. With organizations like these, it is extremely important to emphasize young people’s voices on this issue and give them the chance to take ownership of their environmental future.

It’s not easy to admit, but no one in the conversation has the perfect solution. Maybe government mandates are too far left, but complete free market control is too far right. There are solutions in between that could be reached if we young people flip the narrative and work to improve the environment in a bipartisan way. Banning all plastic straws everywhere seems extreme, and so does using 50 straws at once to “own the libs.” There is a middle ground, and the newest generation of active politicos needs to embrace it.

The goal of environmental activism should not and, frankly, cannot be lost in the chaos. The goal here is to treat the earth with respect so that our children and our children’s children have somewhere to live. It doesn’t matter who is one-hundred percent right. It matters that we get something done and make some change.

Karly MatthewsComment