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The Sky is Hazy, Again! Youth Must Lead us Back!

Throughout the month, much of the United States and Canada has been turned into an orange haze. For a few days the sky was not blue.

Recent federal climate legislation, such as the Inflation Reduction Act, and the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act seeks to aid a transition to a greener future. But these measures do not go nearly far enough. We received a big orange warning sign to be bolder in our efforts to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. Now it is time we heed it.

Older generations of Americans have led hundreds of years of climate policy failures, unable to see far enough into our future to secure it. The current median age of lawmakers in the United States House of Representatives is 57.9. Unfortunately that number will not be lowered quickly, but youth can advocate for climate, and education legislation in innovative arenas. We need a generation of young leaders, like the ones present in March for Our Lives and youth climate movements to explore every corner of leadership.

Enacting federal and even global climate legislation may generate enormous impact. However, youth leadership investing time and leadership into affecting policy in local, and state governments can give young people a voice in the policy that dictates our future.

Youth activists in Hawai’i proved it. Despite past failures in passing a statewide ban on disposable plastics they turned their attention to local government. Youth leaders effectively organized a mass of young people growing from just four students to thousands, speaking out in favor of the measure to ban disposable plastics in Honolulu: Bill 40.

Dyson Chee, a Hawai’i Youth Climate Coalition Director, and activist leading the effort to pass Bill 40 said “The youth swell was so powerful, it convinced some lawmakers who were on the fence, or opposed to the bill to vote to pass Bill 40 just a few months later.”

Through a coordinated effort with non-profit leaders, conscientious business leaders, and community members, young people on O’ahu organized to pass what was then the most comprehensive disposable plastic ban, banning single-use plastic straws and disposable plastic utensils. Since then, the other three counties in Hawai’i have passed similar bans.

Hawai’i should serve as a model of the impact youth can have on policy outcomes when they have access to different levers of power. While many associate traditional Congressional lobbying efforts with the U.S. capital, youth advocacy in local government is particularly important in Washington D.C., given its lack of federal voting representation.

More than that, its mass of youth leaders represent the new moral framing through which the climate crisis and other relevant policy issues, like education and gun control, should be viewed through. Young people are the ones whom these policies will most affect so it is only fitting they should be the ones in positions of leadership to help pass such powerful legislation.

As a local lawmaker in Hawai’i told Chee: “Youth are the north star of our government,” providing an essential “moral compass” that gives our country, and our world direction.

The pathway to progress is clear. Now it is up to us to follow it. We need youth leadership deeply involved in local government and advocacy to guide us to a clearer future with bright blue skies ahead.

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