When global leaders gather in Copenhagen three weeks from now, the concerns of the world's youth will be impossible to ignore.
Young adults and teens know that if their parents' generation fails to stop climate change, they will be the ones left to contend with the ensuing nightmare. So, what they lack in deep pockets, the climate change generation is making up for in determination and the media savvy.
By galvanizing large numbers of people around the world to call for climate change action, young people are making a bigger impact on the global political scene than ever before.
"Traditionally, there were the media, NGOs, lobbyists and governments that shaped what came out of these [international negotiations]. Now there is a rising impact from global civil society that is being engaged by young people," said Richard Graves, a youth delegate to the 2007 climate talks in Bali and now a coordinator for TckTckTck.org.
"Bringing technology to bear on organizing is something that young people have gotten sophisticated about and have brought to political organizing."
TckTckTck, whose Global Climate Wake Up Call rang in capitals around the world in September, is already flexing its on-line organizing muscle in preparation for Copenhagen. On Day 1 of the negotiations, its youth organizers will deliver to the gathered officials the names of over 3 million people — young and old alike — who are demanding a fair, ambitious and legally-binding agreement to halt climate change.
Another group, Project Survival Media, a global network of 93 young journalists on seven continents, is creating photos, mini-documentaries and blogs about communities whose very survival is already threatened by the dire effects of climate change. In Copenhagen, the youth-produced media will be deployed as a lobbying tool. Youth delegates will meet their national leaders armed with the stories from their own countries that bring home the urgent need for sound climate policy.
In all, 500 to 800 young people from around the world are expected to attend the climate talks, including close to 80 U.S. youth and delegates from youth climate networks in India and China.
While their presence is making a point to world leaders about the future, their voices will be heard far beyond Copenhagen.
Many of these young activists will be providing media coverage of unfolding events, and sharing it with the world via videos, podcasts and blogs. Among the U.S. bloggers will be a dozen college-aged delegates representing seven Midwestern states, sent on Expedition Copenhagen by the Will Steger Foundation (WSF).
"One goal is to bring the message to the international community that the Midwestern U.S. has strong potential for national and international leadership in climate change solutions," said Abby Fenton, Educational Programs Coordinator for WSF.
"The other piece is to bring back to the U.S. from the international stage connections between global solutions around climate policy and local actions. So people in Iowa can see the relevance between what's going on in Copenhagen and their lives in Middle America."
The WSF delegates have been studying international climate policies, brushing up on the latest science and sharing their climate change knowledge through presentations at area high schools. This is a significant undertaking because a 2006 poll of 900 U.S. high school students showed that the average student fails to understand the causes and consequences of climate change.
The delegates will report on what they witness at the negotiations via blog posts to the WSF site. Each delegate will focus on a different component of international climate policy, such as environmental justice, cap-and-trade policies, deforestation and climate technologies.
"Young people bring to the debate moral clarity, a fresh approach and energy that are absolutely essential," Graves said.
On the home front, college students are also speaking out, protesting coal-fired power at their schools and pressuring state and federal leaders to take action.
The Massachusetts student group Leadership Campaign has been holding nightly demonstrations for clean energy across the state, and students on 24 Massachusetts campuses are camping out in common areas to remind the public that young people are worried about the future and determined to fight for meaningful climate legislation.
"A lot of people in the environmental movement have become jaded as to what can be achieved. The Leadership Campaign refuses to believe in the roadblocks. We are unusual in the fact that we will not settle for what is going on and we want a fresh look," said Daniel Abrams, New Media Coordinator for the Leadership Campaign and a senior at Northeastern University in Boston.
So far, their weekly rallies at the state Capitol have resulted in 14 state legislators signing on in favor of a plan to convert to using 100% clean electricity in Massachusetts within 10 years. U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who will be a key negotiator at the Copenhagen talks, has taken notice of the youth-powered activism.
"This kind of grassroots activism sends a strong message across Massachusetts that climate change must be addressed now, not years from now," Kerry told students at Tufts University in Medford, Mass.
At the pivotal point during COP15, halfway through the talks, millions around the world will join in demonstrations. The Sign a Real Deal day of global action will be held on December 12. On the 12th hour of the 12th day of the 12th month, policymakers in Copenhagen will hear the worldwide cheer for climate justice, from constituents of all ages.
Youth everywhere will be hoping the adults in Copenhagen are listening.
(Photos: Power Shift; 350.org)