I believe that like most parents there are times when we ask ourselves “what kind of world are we leaving for our children?” We have two girls, ages twelve and fourteen and we do everything we can to protect them and prepare them for the future. Unfortunately, that future is looking increasingly dire, but fortunately, it seems that today’s youth are charting their own future. In fact in many ways our kids are leading the way.
Last February 14th on Valentine’s Day normally a day when love is in the air, hate ruled at a High School in Parkland, Florida. Within six minutes a 19-year-old armed with a semiautomatic rifle gunned down 19 students and staff. While the rampage was unfolding and before the SWAT teams arrived, one student, David Hogg, hiding in a classroom closet dictated into his cellphone this urgent plea. “Forget the NRA, forget all the political backing. Take a stance. For human lives. For children’s lives.”
Within hours of that horrendous event, surviving students gave interviews, and created a social media the hashtag #NeverAgain. No longer would the “thoughts and prayers” of their elected officials be enough. Within days they were planning a trip to Florida’s State Capitol to demand stricter gun control from their legislators. A month later their March for Our Lives brought 800,000 people to a mass demonstration in Washington DC and inspired 800 similar demonstrations in cities around the world.
Highschool students that hours before Valentine’s Day were doing homework and playing video games had organized one of the largest mass demonstrations in the nation’s history. Their call was not limited to gun control, but called out politicians that place politics above priorities, warning that highschool students will become voters by the next election. Most importantly they called for greater youth participation and activism on issues that impact their lives and their future, a message that has resonated with young people around the world.
A Climate Change Call To Action
On July 21st, thousands of young people demanding action, took part in the “Zero Hour” climate march down Washington DC’s National Mall. Again on September 8th, we witnessed tens of thousands marching in Rise For Climate demonstrations held in over ninety countries circling the planet. Joining in the march to demand action on climate change, a young mother with two children said “They are three and five years old and the world is going to look a lot different when they’re my age.”
Some may think this is all new, but youth have been speaking out on important issues for decades and adults have refused to listen or respond with meaningful action.
“If You Don’t Know How to Fix It, Stop Breaking It”
Twentysix years ago, a 13-year-old Severn Suzuki passionately addressed the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Over the following years some of the issues Severn described have been resolved, but many more have been ignored and have even gotten worse. And in 1992 climate change was not even on the agenda.
“My dad always says, ‘you are what you do, not what you say’ well what you do makes me cry at night. You grown-ups say you love us, but I challenge you, please make your actions reflect your words.”
Severn’s address received warm applause and then politicians went back to things as usual. Maybe the hashtag #NeverAgain needs to also be applied to climate change action. Maybe today’s youth movements are unstoppable. Maybe politicians will start to act to protect the future not just their jobs. Maybe we are really seeing the change that we have so often been promised.
Make Earth Great Again
Mixed reviews are coming out of COP24 in Poland, the most important climate summit since the singing of the Paris Accord in 2015. However, one participant addressing the conference, was Greta Thunberg a teenager from Sweden who made headlines recently by calling for a Global Climate Strike.
Greta had been researching the issue of climate change for six years which led to a one-person School Strike in front of the Swedish Parliament to protest the inaction of her country’s leaders on climate change.
“Since Our Leaders Are Behaving Like Children”
“Since our leaders are behaving like children, we will have to take the responsibility they should have taken long ago,” she said. “We have to understand what the older generation has dealt to us, what mess they have created that we have to clean up and live with. We have to make our voices heard.”
Greta’s strike created headlines that embarrassed the government into action and propelled her to COP24 where she said this.
“We have not come here to beg the world leaders to care for our future. They have ignored us in the past and they will ignore us again. We have come here to let them know that change is coming whether they like it or not. The people will rise to the challenge.”
Greta’s Message Goes Viral
Students in Australia have been hearing Greta’s message, but they have also been hearing from the “adults” who say forget protest, go back to school and leave it to us. Youthful protesters heard this and worse in the US after the March for Our Lives and Greta heard it from Swedish lawmakers during her strike.
Australian students were lectured by their prime minister Scott Morrison “to go to school” and were incensed by another politician when told “the best thing you’ll learn about going to a protest, is how to join the dole queue.”
“Stop Investing In Fossil Fuels”
The ten thousand students that marched in the School Strike 4 Climate Action were not having any of it. One of their signs read “Why should we go to school if you won’t listen to the educated?” another said “If You Don’t Act Like Adults, We Will.”
One parent that witnessed the protest said,
“I heard students today at the rally talking about the IPCC report, talking about the 700 odd days until emissions can peak before we exceed 1.5 degrees,” continuing “These are kids that actually understand the science in a way that I think most parliamentarians don’t.”
The students were protesting the government’s move to approve the giant Adani coal mine in Queensland that will increase global warming and also threatens the Great Barrier Reef. They want to make Australia’s energy production 100 percent renewable, not impossible considering the solar and wind opportunities that Australia’s geography offers.
However, the Australian Prime Minister intends to continue to exploit the country’s coal reserves even when confronted with reports indicating that the country’s emissions levels continue to rise. And if kept on their present trajectory there is no way Australia can meet its commitments to the Paris Agreement.
As Lucie Atkin-Bolton one of the leaders of the march said.
Climate change “is a crisis”,.. “It’s not going to happen in two or three decades – it’s happening now.” “We can’t just talk about it, we have to act,” “We have to make a change.”
Another young activist Aisheeya Huq said “Young people have realised that because we are going to be affected, we have to step up, and we have to do something about it.”
Social Media brings support from Sweden’s Greta to Australia’s students “I read about them in newspapers up here in Europe and it’s hopeful beyond my imagination.” Greta inspires Lucie and they in turn inspire other young people around the planet.
“Climate change matters more for us,” one youth says. “We need to fight for our future.”
Thank God for these bright, thoughtful, inspiring and caring young people, the present may not be, but the future hopefully, is in good hands. Unfortunately, the climate can’t wait, the time is too short, the repercussions of inaction to grave, adults with and for their children need to take action now to protect the future.
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