Last week, as I stood on the front steps of the Minnesota State Capitol, I watched hundreds of high schoolers stream by as they left their classes to join in the U.S. Youth Climate Strike. One sign in particular stood out to me: “Why are we studying for a future we won’t have?”

That question gets at the urgency of the youth climate strikes and hints at the despair inherent in not getting this fight right. For anyone who was paying attention to the worldwide action last Friday, it’s absolutely clear that the moral heart of climate action today is in young people demanding a better world.

That’s why I was intrigued to read a Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed that frames the Green New Deal as fundamentally an anti-despair public health agenda. The article’s author, Abraham Gutman, argues that America’s growing income inequality and structural racism are isolating and destructive to our mental health by stealing the hope for a better future. He says we’ve reached a crisis point, not only in the damage this system is doing to our bodies, but also to our planet. Rallying Americans to take bold action on climate change and address inequality could also go a long way to tackling addictions and lowering the suicide rate, Gutman says, saving hundreds of thousands of lives each year.

“The Green New Deal is the shift we need to give people something to look forward to,” he writes.

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This potential for optimism, combined with the consistently high polling data that the Green New Deal (and climate in general) is getting lately points to the current moment as a breakthrough unlike any in the history of the climate movement. Climate change has rocketed to the top of the Democratic 2020 primary agenda, in large part due to the insistence of youth voices.

America’s youth have seen two possible visions of the future: One where we continue on with the status quo, or one where we have re-oriented our entire society to live in harmony with the planet we call home.

The rising power of the youth strikes show clearly which one they’d prefer. Once the rest of us have the courage to realize what’s at stake, we can get to work creating it.

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