A character in A Great Reckoning, the 2017 novel by Canadian author Louise Penney, quotes philosopher Marcus Aurelius: “The object of life is not to find oneself in the majority but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.” That could apply to a column in the Sun Prairie Star by Rich Lowry of the National Review, “Don’t Listen to Greta Thunburg” (Oct. 1 issue, p. A4). Ms. Thunburg is the Swedish teenager who sailed to the US to participate in youth climate strikes and to speak at the United Nations on the crisis of climate change.
Mr. Lowry asserts that Ms. Thunburg could not think or act on her own. “Kids have nothing interesting to say to us. They just repeat back what they have been told by adults.” He adds, in response to Ms. Thunburg’s speech that adults are failing children by not addressing climate change, “by no global measure of social and economic well-being have we failed kids.”
Lowry is correct that there have been significant advances. Due to the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDG), since the year 2000, 15.6 million lives have been saved from measles, 6.2 million from malaria, primary education’s gender gap narrowed, and 2.6 billion people access clean drinking water. However, not slowing carbon emissions will erode any progress achieved.
The General Secretary of the World Meteorological Society on Dec. 3 reported exceptional global heat in the last decade and stated that mitigation is more urgent than ever. It requires drastic measures to eliminate fossil fuels in power production, industry, and transportation.
Greta Thunburg is not alone. In 2015, 21 young people in the US brought suit against the federal government, arguing that it is violating their constitutional rights by promoting the development and use of fossil fuels despite knowing for decades that they will destroy the planet.
The concept of the Public Trust Doctrine goes back to Roman times and holds that common resources such as air and water belong to everyone and must be guarded for the benefit of all.
The youth of Our Public Trust argue that all future generations have a legal right to a healthy atmosphere and a stable climate. They are supported by German scientists writing in the journal ‘Nature” that glacial melting, ocean warming and the release of carbon from melting permafrost leave the world at the tipping point of irreversible damage.
It is time to listen to our youth. They are right. If there is to be a future for them, the time to act is now.