By Greg Benchwick, author of the children's book Martha, due out December 12, 2019 on Black Rose Writing

We are headed off a cliff and nobody seems to care. To save humanity and save our world, we need to activate the next generation to take action on climate change and conservation. 

I call it Generation Earth. 

This new generation is inheriting a world in ruins. The Amazon is burning. We are losing dozens of species every day as we enter our world’s sixth mass extinction. Climate change is happening far faster than we ever predicted. Sea levels are rising, temperatures are spiking, children are being forced from their homes, and people are dying and going hungry.

While scientists, activists, and Global Citizens are sounding the alarm bells, we are making very uneven progress on actually fulfilling the global commitments to keep temperature rise below 2 degrees, to protect our wildlife and the ecosystems they rely on, and to end poverty and hunger by 2030

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So what’s gone wrong, and why are children the answer? 

It all starts with neuroplasticity. If you look at the human mind, we are essentially hard-wired for survival. But that self-preservation generally starts and stops with us. 

As you get older, experience teaches you to look out for Number One. So you don’t jump into burning buildings to save people you don’t know. You don’t fund education in crisis areas, because you can’t see its immediate effects. You don’t fight to save endangered species, because you can’t even feed your own family. You don’t change to solar, eat less red meat, ride your bike or commit to taxing carbon because you’re afraid it will be too expensive and it will impact your immediate prosperity. 

Children are different. Their brains aren’t hard-wired yet. They have that magical thing called neuroplasticity. 

This not only makes kids more altruistic and open to new ways of thinking, it also makes them more powerful agents of change. 

They are also the ones with the most to lose, because the building we live in — this wonderful thing we call Earth — is on fire. 

It Starts at Home

My daughter’s name is Violeta. She’s just 8 years old. And yet, her life could very well be cut short by climate change, the unrestricted plunder of our land, and other huge environmental impacts. 

Recent analysis from US President Donald Trump’s administration says that within Violeta’s lifetime, climate change could take thousands of lives each year and cost the US economy hundreds of billions of dollars. That’s a government that denies the overwhelming evidence of climate change saying it could completely destroy our economy.

Violeta was lucky enough to be born an American citizen. She’s a rich girl. She has everything. She loves rafting with her daddy, soccer, and OneRepublic. And yet, she could lose it all. 

By the time she goes to college and has the right to vote, climate change, habitat destruction, unregulated resource extraction, and other selfish acts will have pushed our world even closer to the edge. 

Now, think about the girls her age living in the developing world who struggle to find enough food to eat. 

Recent UN reports say that as many as 120 million people will be pushed into poverty by that time by climate change.  

This will destabilize economies, trigger even faster rates of migration, and put Violeta and her entire generation in danger. 

We’re not talking “got a booboo, I’ll put a band-aid on it” danger; we’re talking we should have watched more Mad Max when you were a kid, because the apocalypse is here. 

By the time Violeta's 40, as many as a million species will have gone extinct.

She will live in a truly chaotic and dangerous world where wildfires run out of control, where rising seas force people to leave their homes, and where people die on a daily basis because their farms are scorched.   

In fact, she already lives in this world. Sad fact is I’m not doing nearly enough to keep my kid safe.

Activating Generation Earth

I was part of Generation X. Some people even called us the Pepsi Generation — a fitting name for a self-obsessed generation set on consumerism. 

So why can’t we have a Generation Earth? 

It starts with education. Teaching our children about conservation won’t be easy. More than half of US school teachers do not teach climate change in our schools today.  

We need to give these teachers the tools they need to have thoughtful conversations with children about climate change. They need to teach climate change not just in science class. 

They need to teach it in history class, in literature class, in economics class. 

As a parent, I chose to demonstrate this with my actions. My daughter and I walk to school together, we plant a biodynamic garden each spring, and we read books together that help her understand what climate change and environmental degradation really mean for her. 

I even wrote her a book about Martha, the last passenger pigeon, so she could learn what the end of a species really looks like. 

My only hope is that Violeta – and Generation Earth – will be the change we need to save our planet. 

The 2019 Global Citizen Festival in New York will be presented by Citi and Cisco and in association with our Production Partner, Live Nation. MSNBC, Comcast NBCUniversal, and iHeart will serve as Presenting Media Partners and will air a live simulcast of the Festival on MSNBC and on iHeart Radio Stations.

The Festival will also be livestreamed on YouTube and Twitter, presented by Johnson & Johnson. Proud partners of the 2019 Global Citizen Festival include Global Citizen’s global health partner and major partner Johnson & Johnson, and major partners P&G, Verizon, and NYC Parks.


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