With graduation season about to be in full swing, a new youth-led campaign in the U.S. is set to deliver a message to commencement audiences nationwide—at colleges, high schools, and potentially lower grades as well—that this generation of outgoing students is done waiting for leaders to act on the most pressing threat now facing the world: the crisis of "catastrophic climate change."
Taking its name from its call for "zero emissions" and "zero excuses" from politicians, the "Class of 0000" project is recruiting class valedictorians and student graduation speakers to deliver one unified speech, demanding immediate action to end the fossil fuel energy system which threatens civilization as we know it. The campaign is a project of grassroots groups including the Alliance for Climate Education, Sunrise Movement, Earth Guardians, Zero Hour, and iMatter.
"How can we look forward to the next chapter of our lives when the flames of wildfires are already burning the pages of our stories?" asks Lia Harel, a high school climate activist and organizer for the campaign, in a Common Dreams op-ed published Friday. "How can we look forward to building a home with a family when the floods, hurricanes, and rising sea levels are already tearing down our walls?"
"How can we look forward to the next chapter of our lives when the flames of wildfires are already burning the pages of our stories?" —Lia Harel, Class of 0000"This is not an exaggeration, and this is certainly not a hoax," continued Harel, who is graduating from Hopkins High School in Minnesota. "This is the reality that my generation faces. But we, the Class of 2019, are determined to reverse this reality."
Graduation speakers across the country have been driven to join Class of 0000 seven months after the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) delivered a report warning humanity has less than a dozen years to avoid the very worst impacts of a warming planet by rapidly transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy.
"I am an activist and when I heard about the project, I knew I had to be a part of it—for the sake of my class, my generation, the future generations, and my children," Sol Mehl Zobrist, who will be speaking at her graduation from Spring Street International School in Washington, told Common Dreams. "This is a very important topic to address and this generation is pushing hard to get our voices heard and for our rights to be respected."
In a video on the Class of 0000 website, the campaign explains that many of this year's high school graduates will be among the tens of millions of Americans who could be first time voters in the 2020 presidential elections.
"There may be 535 members of Congress," the narrator says, "but there are 25 million of us: first time voters who have had enough."
The group says hundreds of students have already pledged to include the Class of 0000 speech, which follows in full below, during their scheduled commencement address:
Today, we celebrate our achievements from the last four years. But I want to focus on what we need to achieve in the next 11.
That's how long climate scientists have given us; 11 years to avoid catastrophic climate change.
It's already damaging our homes, our health, our safety and our happiness. We won't let it take our futures too.
Our diplomas may say Class of 2019, but marked in history, we are the Class of Zero.
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Zero time to waste.
Across the country, our class stands 7.5 million strong.
And in unity, we’re giving 2020 political candidates a choice:
Have a plan to get to zero emissions, or get zero of our votes.
Together, we have the power to solve the climate crisis. Every student. Every parent. Every teacher. Every leader.
The future is in our hands.
Paul Campion, a graduation speaker at Loyola University in Chicago was the first to deliver the speech on Wednesday.
The campaign follows a growing global climate action movement, led largely by young people. Sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg held the first widely-reported climate strike last fall, holding a one-person protest outside Swedish Parliament and demanding that her government take meaningful action to stop the climate crisis. Since then millions around the world have joined the climate strike movement.
In the U.S. the youth-led Sunrise Movement has also convinced members of Congress and presidential candidates to back a Green New Deal, calling for a shift to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030.
"To ask for clear air, clean water, and land to live on is not asking a lot," Mehl Zobrist said. "Politicians will no longer be ignoring the voices of the youth. We have found our power and we will not back down, we will only be getting stronger."
"What the young people are saying is we're at this time where we need the leadership of those who are willing to take a stand and help us find a way to find those solutions," Harel told Common Dreams. "The politicians who are going to be adamant in saying, 'I want to be a part of these solutions, I want to help us find the path to a more sustainable future'—those are the people who are going to win the votes of the young people."