The latest IPCC report makes for pretty terrifying reading. It's already driven one globetrotting meteorologist to tears, and inspired him to never fly again.

And yet most of the political discourse around climate change, at least in the U.S., seems to center around how much it would cost to tackle it. (Or whether it is happening at all.) 

That's going to change if 11-year-old climate activist Hallie Turner has anything to do with it. Here's how she frames the debate: 

"We only have one amazing earth. If we pollute and poison it, we won't get a second chance. Climate change is happening now, so the youngest generation can't wait to grow up before we get involved. That's why so many young people who love our planet are making their voices heard."
Hallie, who became concerned about climate change and began reading about its challenges at age 9, has been busy rallying her peers. On Sept. 28, she led a march in Raleigh, N.C. She urged marchers to do what they could — ride a bike, plant a tree, live as if the future matters — but the focus of the iMatter Youth March, part of a broader campaign of youth-led events organized by the iMatter Youth Movement, was as much on elected leaders as it was on individual lifestyle changes. She explained to me by phone why she feels it's so important for her to speak out: 
"The future of this world is our future. And we're asking our leaders to take action on climate change. We're the ones who are going to have to live with the consequences of what's going on."
I ask her if she, as a young person, feels any resentment toward older generations for creating this crisis: 
"Sometimes yes, sometimes no. But usually I remind myself that people really didn't know the consequences of what was happening. Now, as more and more people are becoming aware, I think they'll want to take a stand and act."
That's a message that clearly needs to be heard, and many activists are hopeful that a focus on the ethical dimensions of climate change — including the future that our children will inherit — will help move the debate past the economic and political challenges of transitioning to a low-carbon future. 

March against climate change in North Carolina

Photo: iMatter NC

In an interview with North Carolina's Indy Week newspaper, Susannah Tuttle of Interfaith Power and Light explained why she believes Turner's message may get across to legislators who have remained resistant to climate action on economic grounds:

Lawmakers are accustomed to hearing how a bill will affect business, she said. But starting with the business model, as she put it, "lifts up the economy as the only reason for our existence."

Instead, she suggests that people talk first about what they love. And the response, from faith leaders and legislators, is almost always that "they love this place — North Carolina — from the mountains to the sea. They love vacations with their grandchildren, from the mountains to the sea." Start with love, Tuttle said, and the discussions move not to issues of business but of humanity. "What is it we're trying to experience here? What is life about?

Whether or not such efforts will bear immediate fruit remains to be seen. It's certainly true that there is immense resistance and a lot of denial when it comes to accepting the science of climate change. Yet as evidence mounts of both the causes and severity of man-made climate change, we may well reach a tipping point when decision makers are no longer concerned with whether or not we can afford to take action, but rather whether or not we can afford not to. 

For Hallie's mom, Kelly, empowering youth like Hallie to not only protest, but to take action in other ways too, ought to be a priority for the environmental movement:

"When Hallie first got interested in this issue, she was really frustrated at not finding more opportunities to DO something. Connecting with iMatter and being asked to lead a march was a great opportunity for her to feel like she was having an impact. But it was very challenging to find avenues to connect with other young people. Young people's voices are incredibly powerful, especially on an issue that's so important for their future. Even those who care deeply about this issue can have a hard time knowing how and what to do about it. It would be great for them to have more ways to share their voices."
For Hallie Turner, inaction is not an option. We can all do our part to help Hallie and her peers in making that action as effective and powerful as possible.

And then we can take action of our own.