Greta Made Climate a Top Issue, Now Students are Calling for Real Solutions

By Christopher Barnard and Quill Robinson

This past week, climate activist Greta Thunberg won Time Magazine’s Person of the Year.

Over the last year, millions of students in countries around the world went on strike for climate action.

The hard work of young people has brought the climate crisis to center stage.

Now, seeing the need for real policy solutions, a new group of student leaders is emerging.

2019 has been a watershed year for the climate movement. In the United States, 2020 Democratic Presidential candidates are in a veritable arms race over their climate plans. Across the Atlantic, Green parties received historic support in May’s European Union Parliament elections; in some countries, they even beat out traditional centrist parties. On the 15th of February, over 15,000 school students took to the streets of the UK, in more than 60 towns, to protest the climate crisis and government inaction. Rather than attending school as on any normal Friday, these thousands of students rallied in favor of a political campaign they believe so strongly in that they are willing to risk punishment from their schools. The attention from elected officials and enthusiasm we are witnessing is in no small part due to such sustained, international, student activism.

Yet, as the discussion turns to policies to address climate change, politics is getting in the way of progress. Climate has become a politically profitable wedge issue dominated by left-of-center politicians. Many leaders have allowed ideology, rather than science, to shape their answers to climate change. This has led some to reject zero-carbon sources of energy like nuclear, embrace symbolic (but ineffective) regulation, and revive the debunked, doom-and-gloom theory of Malthusianism.

The political echo-chamber all over the world, exacerbated by protests like those in London these last few months by Extinction Rebellion, is stifling creative, effective policies and blocking the progress on climate that students are demanding.

That’s why in 2017, a group of conservative students in the United States founded the American Conservation Coalition. American conservatives have a long tradition of environmental stewardship. It was, after all, Teddy Roosevelt who created the modern National Park System and Ronald Reagan who ratified the Montreal Protocol. In this tradition, ACC works on more than 190 college campuses across the country to engage young conservatives on environmental issues, including climate change.

In contrast to policies like the Green New Deal, ACC’s students are advocating for climate policies focused on technological innovation, market competition, and private-sector leadership. At the end of July, more than fifty student leaders representing thirty-eight states met with twenty-eight Republican members of Congress to call on them to take real action on climate change.

In September month, at the congressional hearing on the youth climate movement, ACC’s President Benji Backer said, “It’s time to claim our seat at the table and develop smart, limited-government policies to establish American leadership on this issue. There is a reasonable, conservative response to climate change that we should embrace.” Republican leaders are taking notice of this new movement – and so are students around the world.

While America is often seen as the global stage for climate policy, the United Kingdom is also playing a significant role in the international youth movement. Organizations like Extinction Rebellion and YouthStrike4Climate are frequently featured in the news for their aforementioned organized school strikes, vocal protests, and political marches attracting tens of thousands of students. These were so popular, in fact, that Greta Thunberg herself traveled to the UK to add her voice to the protests, also meeting with numerous high-ranking British politicians.

What these organizations and their marches convey in terms of their energy and enthusiasm, they lack in policy proposals that actually strike at the heart of climate change. Yet Britain’s long and proud history of classical liberal ideas, from Adam Smith to Margaret Thatcher, makes the country uniquely primed to help take charge of the climate debate in a way that cuts to the root of the issue.

This is why, mirroring ACC’s success and example, the British Conservation Alliance (BCA) was launched 3 months ago, in order to provide a path forward that matches this youthful ambition with real, market-based solutions to our environmental problems. Founded by a group of conservative and liberty-minded millennials, the BCA’s mission is to empower the new generation of environmental leaders in Britain to apply such market and classical liberal principles to the issue of climate change, and to promote British leadership on the international stage.

While general student activism has certainly made its impact, it is now time to pivot to realistic, sensible solutions to the climate problem. It appears that there are two key ingredients to ensuring the success of such a youth climate solutions movement. The first, as mentioned previously, is embodied passionately and boldly by thousands of students around the world in the form of groups such as Fridays4Future, who have found the crucial component of youthful energy and unwavering commitment to change. The second ingredient, however, is equally necessary: we need to promote and champion real, evidence-based policy solutions that go beyond emotional appeals to address the issue of climate change at its very core.

Organizations like the American Conservation Coalition and the British Conservation Alliance are leading the way in this respect, as they commit to injecting both youthful energy and effective policy-making into a student-led movement toward climate solutions around the world.

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