So, the tree huggers were right all along. That’s what they used to call those early activists I recognized were committed to protecting the environment. At the time, environmental activism seemed to me like something only folks who lived in a commune would care about. Not anymore. While we may disagree about just how much humans are damaging the environment or how best to deal with the impact of global warming, these days, most Americans know and are concerned about environmental issues.

In a recent op-ed U.S. Sen. Ed Markey claims that’s now the norm, writing, “To everyday Americans, climate change isn’t politics, it’s life and death.” Sen. Markey and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are co-sponsors of the Green New Deal, a proposed federally mandated plan to get to carbon neutral emissions and 100 percent clean energy in 10 years. The proposal also would guarantee green jobs and institute a plan to combat environmental racism. Markey and Ocasio-Cortez are standing fast in the face of brutal criticism and political sniping — even within their own party. But beyond the insiders’ discussion, there’s been a fierce public debate engaging conversations well outside of the Washington beltway. For a lot of young Americans, this is just the latest chapter of a decades-long movement they’ve declared as the issue of their lives.

We have these youthful inheritors of the planet to thank for an increased awareness of all things environmental and commonly accepted policies like recycling. Today, many of us automatically seek out vegetables grown nearby, select disposable plates that degrade into earth-friendly compost and use glass straws in place of the ocean harmful plastic ones. The youth-led movement ramped up significantly last year when 16-year-old Swedish high schooler Greta Thunberg left her school grounds for a daily protest against climate change in front of the Swedish Parliament. Months later, 20,000 students around the world joined her Youth Climate Strike, including Massachusetts students like the 11- and 9-year-old brothers on Martha’s Vineyard protesting outside of Tisbury Town Hall. When Greta spoke at the UN climate conferences, she expressed frustration that older leaders had abandoned their responsibility to address global warming, saying, “We have to understand … what mess they have created that we have to clean up and live with.”

I shouldn’t be surprised by the stalwart commitment of today’s young climate activists. After all, these are kids who grew up with environmentally-themed animated movies like “Happy Feet,” and later were stunned by Al Gore’s unlikely blockbuster “An Inconvenient Truth.” Years ago, I learned first-hand how much those lessons resonated. Speaking at the elementary school of my dear friend’s son, I thought I’d amuse his classmates by asking if they’d ever heard of the three R’s. I meant the improperly spelled reading, righting, 'rithmatic, known as the basics back in the day. One of the pint-sized respondents eagerly stood up, shouting out, “Reduce, reuse, recycle.” He didn’t understand why his teachers and I were doubled over laughing. The kids in that room are working now, likely voters, and according to polls, overwhelmingly supporters of the Green New Deal. It’s their world, and they are more than ready to take the lead.