Nearly 200 countries are represented at the U.N. climate summit this week in Cancun, Mexico. There are also caucuses speaking up for the interests of women, indigenous people, and others whose voices often haven’t been heard. Today I spent some time today with another under-represented group; young people.
I sat down in one of the exhibition halls here with Ian Siadak and Lauren Ressler. They’re both seniors at Seattle University and they’re here with the Sierra Student Coalition, an offshoot of the Sierra Club.
Their group had planned on being part of a “Die-In” demonstration yesterday. A large group of students was going to fall over “dead” to dramatize the deadly consequences of global warming, but U.N. officials cancelled it. Siadak and Ressler told me the officials decided that the visual of dozens of young people dropping dead was too much of a downer for the conference.
And this gets to one of the issues they’re most frustrated about. They say young people – who are now an officially-recognized constituency at the U.N., by the way – don’t get a lot of respect and often don’t get taken seriously.
Siadak says young people have a certain moral authority to speak about climate change because they’re the ones who are going to have to live their lives and raise their children in the changed world we’re leaving them.
On the other hand something they’re pretty happy about is that language proposed by an international youth group was used in a recently-approved U.N. document calling for universal environmental education in schools around the world.
For Siadak and Ressler, being young adults taking action on the climate isn't about politics or economics. It's about having a say in how they're going to live the rest of their lives.