As the conversation around climate change intensifies, youth across the nation are stepping up for change. Young people around the world have organized unprecedented environmental demonstrations this year, following the leadership of figureheads like Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish activist who founded the Fridays for Future movement. 

Set to face the brunt of these impacts, young people are embracing their solidarity as a soon-to-be voting bloc as leverage in their fight against the political and corporate forces that have stymied climate action for decades.

Just last month, the youth-coordinated Global Climate Strike garnered support from more than seven million people to demand swift and meaningful climate justice. Even celebrities are getting involved, including 17-year-old singer-songwriter Billie Ellish, whose viral video “Our House Is On Fire” brings awareness to the various climate-related disasters plaguing our planet.

Youth activists are emboldened to make our voices heard because our future hangs in the balance. In a year wrought by heat wavesdisastrous hurricanes and historic flooding (in Washington, D.C., it actually caused the White House basement offices to leak), the consequences of inaction grow ever clearer. 

Many proponents of change, like Little Miss Flint in Flint, Michigan, are drawing attention to the intersection of environmental justice and social justice. The young activist brought to the national stage the real-life intersection of climate change, poverty and racism, showing the systemic ways these issues continue to plague the most marginalized communities. But taking such a holistic approach is contingent on fixing the fundamental causes of inequality, so before we the youth can take real steps toward a more sustainable future, we must first get big money out of politics.

Big money in politics is a root cause of inaction on climate policy, as well as other concerns shared by many Americans. While the majority of all voters—95% of Democrats and 71% of Republicans—support the transition to clean or renewable energy policies, the legislature hasn’t taken actions that reflect public opinion. Why? Because lawmakers are supported by financial interests that directly profit from environmental degradation.

Fossil fuel interests spent more than $2 billion lobbying Congress between 2000 and 2016. By funneling money into campaigns for politicians who will protect their interests, corporations like Exxon Mobil, BP, Chevron and Shell ensure that policy prioritizes their profits at the expense of global health. According to research completed by Harvard Law and Columbia Law, since 2016 83 environmental regulations meant to keep Americans safe and healthy have been undone. 

Climate change is a global problem uniting citizens on both sides of the aisle. Politicians aren’t listening to the demands of the people because corporate lobbyists hold their attention due to the need for ever-increasing campaign financing. This cycle is perpetuated by the oil and gas industry having built empires of wealth from practices that drive global warming, allowing the degradation of our planet while silencing the opposition. Mitigating the climate crisis is inextricably linked with the mission of getting big money out of politics. The unbridled flow of big money into politics compromises the integrity of democracy and stymies progress toward a world in which we want to live.

Young people recognize that the only way to effectively tackle these issues is through cross-partisan collaboration. By setting aside political party for love of country and planet, this generation is learning from the mistakes that continue to divide our nation. The mission to strengthen democracy is monumental, but my generation is ready to take on the challenge. By addressing global problems through civic action in campaigns such as the Sunrise Movement, youth activists are setting the stage for redirecting the attention of leaders back to the democratic power of their constituents. We need every American on board if we are going to remedy the huge issues facing our democracy and our planet. If you care about a future where the Earth is healthy and habitable for humans and all creatures, the time for unified action is now.

Wambui Gatheru is Outreach Manager for American Promise