At 86 years old, international actress Jane Fonda has found a new cause. She plans to spend the rest of her life fighting global climate change. More specifically, she is bringing young people into the fight.

Ms. Fonda has formed a committee to elect young climate activists to state and local government positions in the United States. She raises money for their campaigns and goes door-to-door on their behalf.

It is a well-considered strategy. Codgers lead the United States. The president is running for office again at age 81. The average member of Congress is around 60 years old. On long-term issues like global warming, older leaders make decisions without having to live with the consequences. For example, voting on fossil fuels has a different meaning for a senior citizen than it does for the young. Young people should be at the table to influence those decisions.

Ms. Fonda has dedicated herself to so many causes during her life that it's hard to decide whether she is an activist who happens to be an actress or vice versa. She has marched, protested, been jailed, and been given money for women's rights, Native American rights, racial equality, reproductive rights, and environmental stewardship. She topped President Richard Nixon's enemies list for advocating an end to the Vietnam War when Nixon wanted to keep it going for political purposes.

She also made movies and won Academy Awards to raise public consciousness about subjects like sex discrimination, the dangers of nuclear power, and the difficulty Vietnam veterans faced returning home.

Now, she is demonstrating that there is no age limit on relevance. She is pushing back against the cliché that each generation reaches a time when it must pass the leadership torch to the young. Ms. Fonda doesn't intend to pass the torch. Instead, she's passing the flame by inspiring young people to take control.

I tagged along recently when Ms. Fonda visited a university campus in Colorado. She drew a crowd of more than 500 students. I was curious how she'd be received by an audience too young to have seen most of her movies or to know much about her. The university's president interviewed her on stage, using questions written by the students.

Ms. Fonda told them she had just visited a neighborhood next to an oil refinery on the outskirts of Denver, Colorado. Severe asthma was so prevalent among children there that many attended a special school that treated them for the illness four times daily. She said the oil industry called the neighborhood a "sacrifice zone."

As she spoke, Ms. Fonda lost her train of thought a few times. She stopped mid-sentence to search for a word or two. It was age, she explained. But she lit up the room with her intensity, acquired wisdom, and sense of humor.

The students gave her a standing ovation. But it was how she inspired the students that stood out to me. I have worked on environmental issues for the last ss years and climate change for the last 3s. I still write articles published weekly in the United States and monthly in this magazine. I am often frustrated, discouraged, and even depressed at the lack of progress against one of the world's actual existential threats. There are many moments when I think it's time to retire.

On this day, however, the students’ reaction reminded me of a speech I gave years ago to a World Youth Congress. I made a promise, saying something to the effect of, "They talk about passing the torch to a new generation. But all generations must carry the torch against global warming. We need all hands on the torch. I will not pass mine until they wrestle it from my cold, dead hands." I got a standing ovation, too.

For us old-timers, the job is not to pass the torch. It’s to use our torch to light others. We should do all we can, up to our last breaths, to fix what we have broken before passing the world on to our children.

There inevitably comes a time when we must write the last chapter of our lives, but it's better to leave a legacy than an obituary.