I’m not too old to remember the days of my youth. Idealism is a perennial quality among the young, and I was idealistic. I am proud that I joined the fresh-faced youngsters protesting segregation and shouting for equality and civil rights in the 1960s. That was a good thing because it created positive change in the country even if the struggle against racism is not over.
The Vietnam anti-war movement was full of the same kind of idealism, which made me feel alienated from my peers because I was grieving for comrades lost in Vietnam.
I had seen atrocities and the fear of Communism on the part of the South Vietnamese, but the idealistic protesters seemed not to care about that. I felt it was inexcusable for the young people to so blithely ignore the Communist danger. Fear of Communism was true not only of the Vietnamese. The context of the Vietnam War was the Cold War with the Soviets, which meant that we also feared Communism.
Ultimately, we won the Cold War even if we lost the battle for Vietnam, which is actually a good thing because a united Vietnam is now our ally against Chinese expansionism.
Now we are engaged in a 20-year war against terrorism, which is bad enough, and whose outcome seems to be at least a stalemate. But we are also fighting another war, a much more difficult and costly war whose outcome could be not stalemate but complete defeat for us and the whole world.
This other war is the fight against global climate change. The stark reality is that the planet is rapidly warming.
This is not fake news. And it is not only a threat in remote parts of the world. Europe has experienced the highest temperatures since record-keeping began. The Greenland ice cap is melting, causing sea level rise.
Close to home, the media reports that Denver has seen its hottest summer. Devastating hurricanes such as Dorian, whose wind speeds are the highest recorded, are now the norm.
In the last few days in the Gulf of Mexico, Tropical Storm Imelda broke all precedent and morphed into a dangerous storm in just a matter of hours, catching weather forecasters by surprise and drowning Houston.
It seems that it’s either scorching drought with wildfires or too much rain and disastrous floods in so many places. According to Time magazine, in the next 10-15 years 85 million people from sub-Saharan Africa will head north to escape climate change. Many of them will no doubt end up here.
This is truly a kind of war and troops are mobilizing to fight it. Sixteen-year-old Swedish leader Greta Thunberg is the inspiration for millions of idealistic young people worldwide, including a strong contingent in Colorado Springs led by members of Bill McKibben’s 350.org. We should not underestimate the power of idealism, realizing that it is our best hope to win the war against global warming.
Greta will speak at the United Nations on Monday, bluntly telling her elders that they have failed to protect not only her generation but many others in the future from the man-made disaster of global warming.
Young people like Greta are cause for hope. Taking its cue from Greta, the local 350 group is focused on youth participation, tapping into the anxiety among youth about the future of a planet too hot for life as we know it, but also harnessing the powerful idealism of the up and coming generation.
Local high school and college student activists are playing leading roles in organizing local Climate Strike rallies, with a specific objective: the closure of the Martin Drake coal-fired power plant by 2023. I hope we can succeed in this, considering that I have decided to enlist in the army fighting climate change.
Joe Barrera, Ph.D., is the former director of the Ethnic Studies Program at UCCS, a lecturer on U.S. Southwest history, and a combat veteran of the Vietnam War.