Children aren’t the future: where have all the young climate activists gone? | Eleanor Salter
To avoid ‘youth-washing’ politicians and corporations, young people now are more likely to coalesce around radical policies or campaigns
Between 2016 and 2020, children were the vital force at the centre of the climate movement. Youth strikers organised record-breaking mass mobilisations and protests between geography and double maths. In the US, young people from the Sunrise Movement occupied Nancy Pelosi’s office demanding climate action. Youth activists got extraordinary media attention, invitations to speak at climate summits, and to address the UN. Teenagers such as Vanessa Nakate and Greta Thunberg became household names; both of them appeared on the cover of Time magazine, the latter as person of the year in 2019.
This coincided with a moment in climate politics that was awash with ideas around children, the future, and intergenerational justice. Extinction Rebellion activists used the next generation as a proxy for the future: climate action in the present was a moral necessity for our children and grandchildren. Politicians also adopted this framing. At the same time, young people were taking matters into their own hands. For a time, it seemed that a climate movement was emerging in which children acted simultaneously as the spark, inspiration and energy. This wave seemed unstoppable.
Eleanor Salter writes about climate, culture and politics