During last night’s Democratic presidential debate, Pete Buttigieg was challenged by Tom Steyer to “prioritize” climate change higher than he has done so far, “because the people in his generation understand that this is a crisis.” Buttigieg replied that climate would be “a topic of Day One action” and went on to say:
“I’ve seen politicians in Washington saying the right thing about climate change as long as I’ve been alive. All these plans we have to get carbon-neutral by 2050—and I think most or all of us have one—their impact is multiplied by zero unless something actually gets done.”
However, when it comes to climate policy, Buttigieg has shown little interest in making sure anything actually gets done. Just one week ago, the candidate was approached at a campaign rally by two teenage climate activists, Nara Kim and Kimaya Mahajan. Rather than address their concerns, Buttigieg chose to tell them to “rethink [their] strategy” among other baffling and dismissive statements. Current Affairs is proud to publish this response by Kim and Mahajan.
Dear Mayor Pete Buttigieg:
Last Saturday night, we had the opportunity to meet you at a rally in Seattle—a night when we, as teenagers, should have been out with our friends or doing our homework. But instead we came to your rally so that we could ask why your climate plan calls for an end to pollution by 2050, which is far too late to meaningfully address the climate crisis. In response, you snarkily asked us to come up with “economically feasible” solutions. That’s right: You, the candidate for president, told us—two teenagers—to do your work for you.
This is a clear signal that something is fundamentally wrong with our politicians and our political system. When a 37-year-old running for president asks two high schoolers to find a plan to solve the biggest existential threat in world history, there is a problem. When our leaders don’t take accountability, and don’t take the coming climate collapse seriously, there is a problem. However, this seems to be the world we live in: a world where leaders like you have forced kids to sacrifice their own childhoods to fight for a livable future.
Mayor Buttigieg, this is not “fun” for us. We don’t enjoy spending our nights on long strike-planning calls, researching policy, or reading science reports. We don’t enjoy the constant harassment we face from grown adults online and in person. We don’t enjoy missing school to strike so that those in power will finally listen. We don’t enjoy fighting tooth and nail for our futures, but we have to, because people like you refuse to take bold action in the face of climate catastrophe.
We hoped that by speaking with you and raising our voice on this issue, you might take it to heart and reconsider your climate plan, or even acknowledge us and say that our concerns were valid and that you would be our ally every step of the way. We got neither. Mayor Buttigieg, in case you have forgotten, you’re the politician. You’re the one running for the highest position in the country. You’re the one who is supposed to have plans to fix global problems. Dumping that weight on a 15-year-old and a 17-year-old who are trying to get those in power to take action is not only out of touch, it’s also irresponsible.
As for the question of “rethinking our strategy” in persuading people— Mayor Buttigieg, we yell because we need you to hear us. The climate catastrophe we face isn’t something we can be mild-mannered about. It is so incredibly urgent. In a situation where there are dozens of other people shouting and where we only have a matter of seconds to get your attention, hell yeah we’re going to yell.
The stakes are unbelievably high for our generation. Older politicians worry about their children and their grandchildren, which are completely valid concerns. However to us, this is about our own lives. It’s about whether or not we’ll be able to financially survive in a climate that destabilizes entire economic systems. It’s about whether or not we’ll be able to go outside without a breathing mask. It’s about whether or not we’ll have to flee from coastal areas because of rising sea levels. It’s about whether or not we’ll have access to clean drinking water. It’s about whether or not we’ll be able to live into adulthood.
We understand that as a politician it’s hard to please an entire country of 327 million people. However, given an issue that’s so blatantly urgent, it shouldn’t be hard to decide whether to take minimal or bold action. You, Mayor Buttigieg, picked the former. If you continue to side with mediocrity in the face of an existential crisis, history will not look fondly upon you.
It is imperative that you listen to the people, particularly the youth, and understand the urgency of climate change. It may not be affecting privileged white men like yourself right now, but just wait, because in a few decades, you’ll wish you’d done more.
We would like to end this letter with one final message: Our generation deserves a future. We, the youth, deserve better. Do better.
Nara Kim (17) & Kimaya Mahajan (15)
Outreach Director & Co-Executive Director of Washington Youth Climate Strike, a chapter of U.S. Youth Climate Strike