GLASGOW, Scotland — Former President Barack Obama made a plea to young people to adopt a more conciliatory approach to climate change activism on Monday.
“It will not be enough to simply mobilize the converted,” Obama warned. “It will not be enough to preach to the choir. It will not be enough to just ramp up intensity among people who already know about climate change and care deeply about it.”
Speaking at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, Obama devoted a substantial portion of his nearly hourlong speech to addressing not the delegates watching in person, but the younger generation of viewers online.
“The most important energy for this movement is coming from young people,” he said — the first line he delivered that received significant applause. “They have more at stake in this fight than anybody else. That’s why I want to spend the rest of my time talking directly to young people who may be watching and wondering what they can do to help.”
It was a maneuver that harked back to his swift rise in national politics and his upset 2008 Democratic primary victory over the then-Sen. Hillary Clinton, which was largely powered by the enthusiasm of young voters. What distinguished Obama from Clinton and his other rivals at the time was not policy substance, on which his views were similar to other mainstream Democrats, but his approach to politics. He emphasized hopefulness and argued that democratic engagement from once-disillusioned younger voters could overcome partisan gridlock.
He returned to those same themes on Monday in Glasgow.
“You’ve been bombarded with warnings about what the future will look like if you don’t address climate change,” Obama said to his young viewers. “And, meanwhile, you’ve grown up watching many of the adults who are in a position to do something about it either acting like the problem doesn’t exist or refusing to make the hard decisions needed to do something about it. That’s a source of real anxiety and anger at older people.”
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