“We are right now in the beginning of a climate and ecological crisis, and we need to call it what it is: an emergency … We have to acknowledge that the older generations have failed. All political movements in their present form have failed, but Homo sapiens have not yet failed … We can no longer save the world by playing by the rules, because the rules have to be changed. Everything needs to change, and it has to start today. So, everyone out there, it is now time for civil disobedience. It is time to rebel.”-Greta Thunberg, 2019
What does one generation owe to the next? Are we born with the right to a future, or do we just borrow it from the previous generation? What happens if one generation fails to provide for the future security of the next? Who is accountable for that failure- who will pay? We do ourselves a disservice to frame our lives in terms of money and debts, but that is the reality of the capitalist system we live in.
Student Debt and Climate Change
In 1989, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere passed 350 ppm (parts per million). 350 ppm is the level that atmospheric CO2 must stabilize at “if humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted”. At that time, outstanding student loan debt in the United States was somewhere around $20 billion, insignificant enough that it is hard to find reliable information even from government sources.
In May 2019, atmospheric CO2 passed 415 ppm– a level unprecedented in the past 800,000 years, a level which has never been experienced by humans. In those 30 years, 71% of all carbon emissions were produced by just 100 corporations and emissions continue to increase. Meanwhile, 45 million Americans now owe $1.6 trillion in student debt, an increase of nearly 8000%.
Congress and Wall Street responsibility for today’s crises
How could world leaders be so irresponsible to allow all of this to happen? How could the U.S. Congress fail to represent the interests of the people so catastrophically? We were unborn, or only children. Older generations were unable (or unwilling) to stop these crises. People cast their ballots and called their representatives, but nothing changed, regardless of which party was in power or who was President. At the heart of both the climate emergency and the student debt crisis is the unrelenting greed of Wall Street, which controls our government and prevents the will of the people from being represented.
The alliance of Wall Street and the fossil fuel industry goes back at least a century, but just in the past decade they have provided billions of dollars in credit for fossil fuel infrastructure, often at significant losses. This was after their illegal, criminal business practices destroyed the economy and they were bailed out by taxpayers. Millions of American families lost their homes, their livelihoods, and their quality of living decreased, but those responsible for the Great Recession used our money to invest in world-destroying fossil fuels.
What is not often reported is that Wall Street has also been legally gambling with student loans for decades. Since 1992, the student loan industry has issued almost $600 billion worth of Student Loan Asset Backed Securities, which are marketed to investors by Wall Street firms. All of the major student loan companies such as Navient, Nelnet, PHEAA have been issuing these assets. As of 2019, roughly $170 billion worth of these Assets are outstanding. They are quite literally gambling with our futures, having already invested in destroying them, and hoping we won’t call their bluff.
What students and student debtors can do
In the past year, millions of students across the world have started striking from school to demand action on the climate emergency. Students today live a paradoxical, contradictory life- studying and preparing for a future role in a system that they know simply won’t exist unless they use their education to destroy that system and create something new.
Millennials and Gen Z are coming to the conclusion that the system itself is killing them, and they have realized that their obligations (e.g. to attend school) can be used as leverage to make demands. Those of us who have already graduated cannot strike from school, but if we stop paying our student loans in solidarity with the school strike movement, Wall Street and Congress will have no choice but to listen to our demands for a better future.
I’m the king of Debt, I’m great with debt. Nobody knows debt better than me. I’ve made a fortune by using debt. And if things don’t work out, I renegotiate the debt, I mean that’s a smart thing not a stupid thing.Donald Trump, the self-proclaimed King of Debt
“How do you renegotiate the debt?”
You go back and you say ‘guess what, the economy just crashed, I’m gonna give you back half.’
To fight for the possibility that future generations may live, and in the interest of the survival of humanity past the 21st century, it has become necessary for ordinary people to take revolutionary action. We owe nothing to a system that sold our future for profit before we were born. Our only debt is to the future: rebel, now, while there may still be time to prevent the worst-case scenarios of climate change. Steal your education!