Climate change was among the main issues on their minds. It was either the first or one of the first issues they expressed concern about, well before they mentioned other hot-button social issues like gun control and abortion.
“Politics don’t matter without the environment. We all got to live somewhere,” 17-year-old senior Nick Jordan told me.
Jordan seemed to say this jokingly, but it is a real concern among many his age. After all, young folks like Jordan will be inheriting most of the devastating effects of decades of pollution and environmental irresponsibility long after the Baby Boomers are gone.
But it isn’t just Millennials and Generation-Zers who will witness some of the most dramatic negative effects of climate change. According to some of the world’s top scientists from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, humanity has about 12 years to substantially limit the effects of climate change, which will include floods, droughts, extreme heat and devastation of entire ecosystems.
Unless carbon and other harmful emissions are seriously reduced by about 45 percent by 2030, we will experience food scarcity and climate-change-related poverty on an unprecedented scale as sea-level increases affect tens of millions of people living in coastal localities by 2100.
All of this is just the tip of the iceberg, a concept that could very well become a distant memory in the future. The students I talked to know this, too.
Their sense of urgency was not only for them but for their children and grandchildren, who will be living with the worst of the effects if measures that go well beyond individualism aren't implemented and implemented as soon as possible.
I’m sure many of the students I’ve spoken with about this issue are unaware that climate change scientists have pointed out that 100 global companies are responsible for more than 71 percent of harmful global emissions. However, they seem to understand that turning the tide and changing the trajectory of where we are headed will take a lot more than individual choices like refusing to use plastic straws.
What I noticed among Science Hill’s Generation Z students was in line with the research into Millennials’ attitudes on climate change, about 75 percent of whom believe that human-induced climate change is real and needs to be combatted, according to a February poll by the Alliance for Market Solutions.
The concern is there among young people, so the question of whether or not substantial efforts to combat climate change will move forward before they fully inherit the political landscape is yet to be answered.
When I left Science Hill after covering the mock election, one thing seemed clear: the students I spoke with believe many current proposals and incremental “market-based” measures may be too little, too late.