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Young climate activists like me need support from older generations

Photo by Brian Campbell/Iowa Interfaith Power & Light Central College students march in the Climate Crisis Parade in downtown Des Moines on Feb. 1.

As a student passionate about environmental sustainability, I find sustainable living very empowering. I navigate this empowerment through the values within my faith. Although a sustainable lifestyle isn’t an easy journey, it’s very rewarding. Faith calls each of us in our own way across all generations to work together to end the climate crisis.

Young climate activists look up to older generations. When you see us fighting for systems to be changed, we are doing it because of what you have taught us. The systems that worked in the past are not working anymore. That’s why my generation is trying to change them to work for all of us. You have taught us to be hard workers, uphold our core values, and fight for what we think is right. When you see us in the streets, you are seeing us fighting for a positive change.

I go to Central College, where sustainability is not just talked about, it is lived. I thrive in that environment. When the COVID-19 pandemic sent us back home in March, the sustainable lifestyle I was living ceased.

At home, my efforts weren’t appreciated. My natural cleaners weren’t deemed effective enough to help clean the house. I went back to a home that doesn’t recycle. I went back to being told that my efforts weren’t going to change anything. I witnessed items that could be reused or repurposed get thrown away. I am not alone in this. Often the values of my generation are overlooked by older generations.

As a student of sustainability, a Gen Z’er, a woman, and a person trying to navigate my faith in all of this mess, I’m tired of having my values overlooked. A lot of us young people are trying to make more sustainable switches to our lives, but our parents and other members of older generations only see the actions they don’t understand. They don’t ponder what these actions stand for. We are trying to live out our values that we have been taught by you, our parents and older generations. They just look different from how you saw them.

We refuse to give up on saving the world. It is our responsibility to make more sustainable choices in our own lives and change the world so those choices are the norm. It is our responsibility to speak out against the policies we have in place that make our environment worse and cause others to suffer from it.

In addition to these practices, young people like me are interested in political solutions. We must hold our elected officials accountable to work toward climate action. Our faith, the same faith that so many of us share with our parents, calls us to make a change. We need to stand together to stop doing harm, and make a positive impact on our planet.

Moms, dads, aunts, uncles, grandpas and grandmas, we want to say thank you for teaching us to uphold these important values. You taught us to help people in need and fix problems that need to be solved. Climate change is the problem we young climate activists are trying to fix and we need your help. We want you to know that we are taking what you taught us and changing the world.

We have gotten to this point because of what we have learned from you, so we are asking you to stand with us to tackle the climate crisis.

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Tiffany Van Gilst is a second year student at Central College in Pella majoring in environmental studies and minoring in German studies. She was a Called to Climate Action student leader this past summer with Iowa Interfaith Power & Light.

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