Our youngest generations—impacted by climate change the most—should be aware of the number 405.7: the number that defines our current climate debate. The current measure of CO2 in parts per million (ppm), this number is 33% higher than the previous maximum concentration of carbon dioxide since humans showed up. It’s 16% higher than the 350 ppm threshold suggested as a target for meaningful reversal or limitation of climate change.
When most of the youngest Portland State students were born, that level was 375 ppm, meaning efforts to stop or slow climate change since their birth have been completely unsuccessful.
This is why it’s important to recognize the contribution and agency of people under 25 worldwide—it’s their future, and they will either shoulder the burden or turn the tide. It’s for this reason activists like Vanessa Nakate have taken their protests global; it’s why Greta Thunberg has been holding vigil in a student climate strike for months. It should not be forgotten, however, that these young activists are the children of the generations now in power.
For these activists to succeed in their efforts at turning the rising tide of climate, they will need the support of prior generations. Global well-being should not be predicated on the continued degradation of the environment, nor should the health of this planet be the domain of vanity projects from billionaires like Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates. Instead, efforts should be turned to meaningful cooperation and unified effort. It is vital that the wealthy pay their share and that all generations come together in the interest of our collective future.
Just this month, Jeff Bezos offered just $10 billion to help with efforts to combat climate change. His wealth and the assets of Amazon combined are in the neighborhood of $375 billion, meanwhile both entities take in billions each year. $10 billion parted out into grants over the next few years are ultimately nothing to a man who helms a corporation that, combined with his own largesse, will churn through trillions over the next few years.
So acute are our problems that the use of money is no longer an adequate salve. The very principle of money is in question: Major corporations constitute the bulk of pollution of all sorts, and as such they—and the politicians that enable them—hold blame for climate change. When environmental protection policy is governed more by concessions to top polluters and not the other way around, there is absolutely no hope for the future.
Pro-corporate, anti-reform voices insist that nothing is wrong and that the world is fine. For the sake of their children and children’s children, let’s hope they’re right. Meanwhile, it wouldn’t hurt to start cleaning our planet up. We’ve got generations ahead of us to consider.