Skip to main content

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated Cookie policy, Privacy policy and Terms & Conditions

acemoglu12_FABRICE COFFRINIAFP via Getty Images_climateprotestgirlstudent Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

Are the Climate Kids Right?

The young activists leading school strikes and mass protests around the world have been highly effective in sounding the alarm about climate change. But if the movement is going to be anything more than a flash in the pan, it must adopt realistic policy objectives that the broader public can support.

CAMBRIDGE – The increase of greenhouse-gas emissions (GHGs) in the atmosphere has caused average global surface temperatures to rise by almost 1°C over the past century. There is no doubt in the scientific community that these changes are a direct consequence of human activity. Yet it seems increasingly unlikely that we will be able to reduce GHG emissions sufficiently to halt and then reverse global warming.

The costs of this failure – rising sea levels, mass population displacement, more frequent extreme weather events, and the spread of new infectious diseases – are expected to be catastrophic, even without considering the truly apocalyptic “tail risks” identified by the late Martin Weitzman of Harvard University. And many of the costs will be borne by today’s young people.

Given this, could the “school strike for climate,” an international movement of students and youth activists, be the solution? Yes and no. The world – particularly the United States – needs a wake-up call. Our false sense of comfort – encouraged by disingenuous narratives about geoengineering or other technological silver bullets – needs to be shattered. Marshaling robust responses to massive collective challenges has always required sustained engagement by citizens and civil society.

We hope you're enjoying Project Syndicate.

To continue reading, subscribe now.

Subscribe

Get unlimited access to PS premium content, including in-depth commentaries, book reviews, exclusive interviews, On Point, the Big Picture, the PS Archive, and our annual year-ahead magazine.

https://prosyn.org/JrStU7N;
  1. op_twliu1_XinhuaXiao Yijiu via Getty Images_wuhancoronavirushospitaldoctor Xinhua/Xiao Yijiu via Getty Images
    Free to read

    Witnessing Wuhan

    Tracy Wen Liu

    While Chinese authorities have been projecting an image of national triumph over the COVID-19 outbreak there, the doctors and nurses on the front lines tell a different story. Having lived through hell, they see little to celebrate, much to mourn, and reason to remain fearful.

    8

Edit Newsletter Preferences