For this year’s Women’s History Month, the Inquirer asked five Philadelphia women at different life stages — a Generation Zer, Millennial, Gen Xer, Baby Boomer, and member of the Silent Generation: What’s the biggest issue facing your peer group right now?
The biggest issue facing my peers is climate change. Ecological devastation may not be the most immediate threat for most of us, most days — though it is for many displaced by hurricanes and wildfires, or poisoned by pollution in our communities. But it is the issue that tells us, unequivocally, that we’re nearing the end of the path we’re on.
Nearly two-fifths of Millennials report they are considering not having children because of climate change. On our current path, our children and grandchildren will inherit a Philadelphia that by 2080 is as hot as Memphis, ravaged by devastating storms like Katrina and Sandy. Philadelphia’s working class, and the quarter of our city that lives in poverty, will suffer first and most as prices and temperatures rise.
My kids are 4 and 1, and they do not yet understand what the future holds. I think often of an article I read about an 11-year-old who has nightmares about the havoc climate change will wreak. We have only 11 more years to get off this path and avert catastrophe.
That immense urgency is why I left my job as a reporter to run for office, with my then 3-month-old in the baby carrier. It is why young people across this country have stepped up to demand action, despite the hesitations of politicians of both parties. This organizing fills me with hope. As a state representative representing South Philadelphia, I join them in this struggle.
Together, with a diverse coalition, we can build a path to a better future, one defined by community, cooperation, and caring for our fellow Philadelphians. We have the technology to transform our energy systems to 100 percent clean and renewable sources like wind and solar; to save energy by retrofitting and constructing more efficient buildings; to transform our agriculture and transportation systems. This work will create hundreds of thousands of skilled jobs.
In this transition, we must recognize that the fight against climate change is also a fight for economic justice. We must insist on justice for the most affected communities, and empower workers through unions and cooperative ownership. As young women struggling for equality, we also know we need a strong social foundation that includes family leave, universal health care, affordable housing, fully funded education, and retirement security. A just economic transition requires these commitments, as does a vision of the future in which our children are free.
Our lives will be dramatically altered by the new climate. Our actions now will define exactly how. Change is hard, but my generation knows that our lives, and those of our children, are on the line.
Elizabeth Fiedler serves as state representative for South Philadelphia’s 184th District. She is a Millennial, born between 1981 and 1996.