Motivated or manipulated? Rise of youth climate activism fuels alarm over exploitation
Kids are fast becoming the face of the climate change movement as teenagers, ‘tweens and even younger children file lawsuits, stage walkouts and lobby lawmakers. But newly released documents have raised questions about whether the students are being motivated or manipulated.
A cache of emails released Wednesday on Climate Litigation Watch showed that top climate activists at the 2012 La Jolla strategy session sought to involve children in a legal and civil offensive against the fossil fuel industry, which would include worldwide marches from the “youth climate movement.”
Competitive Enterprise Institute senior fellow Christopher C. Horner, who obtained the emails via an open-records request with the University of Oregon, said the presentation contained in the email is more evidence that students have been used as props.
“It turns out that the frenzied street theater of children’s marches and schoolkids’ strikes was laid out behind closed doors years ago, at the organizational meeting of what became a climate litigation industry,” Mr. Horner said in an email.
Thousands of student activists are preparing to skip class Friday for the Youth Climate Strike, an international protest led by Swedish teen Greta Thunberg, who was nominated Wednesday by three Norwegian Socialist Left Party lawmakers for a Nobel Peace Prize.
“The adults have failed us,” Greta, 16, said in a statement. “And since most of them, including the press and the politicians, keep ignoring the situation, we must take action into our own hands.”
The U.S. student walkout has the blessing of more than a dozen leading liberal and climate groups, including former Vice President Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project, as well as the Union of Concerned Scientists, which organized the La Jolla gathering.
The slides presented at the closed-door meeting by University of Oregon law professor Mary Wood proposed “atmospheric trust litigation” that would be “linked to youth climate movement [worldwide marches]” and include “stories of youth plaintiffs.”
Peter Frumhoff, director of science and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the group stands by the efforts at the La Jolla workshop, which created a blueprint for legal challenges to the fossil fuel industry based on the anti-tobacco litigation of the 1990s.
“We published and posted online a summary workshop report,” Mr. Frumhoff said in an email. “We were pleased that leading experts in atmospheric trust litigation were able to join us for the conference and present their important work.”
He added, “And we strongly support and stand with the tens of thousands of youths across the world who are calling for long-overdue government action on climate change.”
Also backing the Youth Climate Strike are 150 scientists who signed a letter commending the students as they “recognize the battle for their future.”
“Without aggressive action to reduce humanity’s carbon emissions, these students can expect to bear witness to a world we can’t fully imagine yet,” said the letter, whose signatories include Penn State atmospheric sciences professor Michael E. Mann.
James Taylor, senior fellow for environment and climate policy at the free market Heartland Institute, said those egging on the youths with fears of imminent global disaster “should be ashamed of themselves.”
“They’re putting the emotional and mental health of young people at risk so they can use them as pawns for their own political agendas,” said Mr. Taylor. “[They] should be allowed to be children, should be allowed to enjoy life. And certainly it’s good that they’re aware of scientific and political issues, but to use them in a manner that has them fearing they’re not going to have an inhabitable world is borderline abusive.”
Climate Depot’s Marc Morano said the emails show that “climate activists have long planned on using schoolkids to agitate for their fear campaign and regulatory ‘solutions.’”
“These kids have been indoctrinated in climate doomsday nonsense since kindergarten, and now they are being encouraged to skip school so that the federal government can ‘solve’ climate change,” Mr. Morano said in an email.
Young climate activists are increasingly making news. A group of children and teens drew headlines last month for confronting Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, urging her to support the Green New Deal resolution proposed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York Democrat. They pushed back when Ms. Feinstein said the legislation was unaffordable and wouldn’t pass.
On the legal front, moving through the court system is Juliana v. United States, an ambitious 2015 lawsuit filed by 21 youth plaintiffs to stop the fossil fuel industry. They were recruited by Oregon lawyer Julia Olson, executive director of Our Children’s Trust.
Lead plaintiff Kelsey Juliana, now a University of Oregon student, and the others were featured in a profile last week on CBS’s “60 Minutes.” The youngest is now 11.
“This case is everything. This is the climate case,” Ms. Juliana said. “We have everything to lose, if we don’t act on climate change right now, my generation and all the generations to come.”
Mr. Morano criticized the national exposure. He said “the children should be kept out of the media as much as possible to limit their exploitation by the environmental left. Sadly, the media, led by ‘60 Minutes,’ instead chooses to promote their manipulation in glowing segments.”
Environmentalists argue that it’s appropriate for children to be front and center, given that they will suffer the most from any catastrophic consequences from rising greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere.
“Simply put, young millennials and Gen Z-ers have seen the adults who are supposed to be steering the planet hesitate, stumble and make excuses on one of the issues that will shape their future, steering the planet right toward catastrophe,” the Climate Reality Project said in a Tuesday post.
“They’ve had enough,” the project said. “And no wonder — it’s their future on the line. So if adults aren’t going to act on their own, young people will make them.”