Our young people have gone out on the streets to remind us that we have to look at this problem squarely in the face and do something about itby Ray Monk / February 25, 2019 / Leave a comment
Friday the 15th was my birthday and the best present I received was given to me by thousands of children I have never met. That present was nothing less than hope for the future.
In recent times, there have been plenty of reasons to despair. Yes, Brexit and Donald Trump are bad enough, but worse, much worse is the threat to life itself on our planet posed by the way we humans have chosen to live.
I wish this were hyperbole, but almost every month for the last few years a new report has come out, written by scientists who know what they are talking about, telling us that it is not, telling us and our governments that the situation is urgent and desperate. We really are destroying the earth and we need to do something about it now.
Almost as dismal as these warnings has been the response to them. Until recently, the media spoke of climate change as a “debate,” a “controversy,” as if there were serious reasons to doubt that it was happening. And, though, unlike the US and Brazilian governments, our own leaders did not voice scepticism about these reports and positively encourage the activities (burning fossil fuels, clearing rain forests) that scientists have identified as causing climate change, still the measures they took and the suggestions they made for future steps have been woefully out of scale with the size of the problem.
All of which might have induced a fatalistic acceptance of the inevitability that we will fail to do anything serious about global warming and that the disasters predicted in the recent report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people—would happen. The IPCC says we have twelve years to prevent the temperature of the earth rising by 2 degrees rather than 1.5. This difference sounds small but it is the difference, the report emphasises, between life and death for unimaginably vast numbers of humans, animals, and insects.
The scale of the problem is almost too much for us to bear, so many of us turn our backs on it and act as if we had hadn’t been warned of it. But now, led and inspired by the remarkable Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, our young people have gone out on the streets to remind us that we have to look at this problem squarely in the face and do something about it. The movement 16-year-old Greta has inspired has spread extraordinarily quickly to other European countries and it looks quite likely to continue spreading around the world. Young people, it seems, have no intention of allowing us to rob them of a future.
The set of four demands they have announced strike me as entirely reasonable. They are:
The government should declare a “climate emergency” It should also inform the public about the seriousness of the situation The national curriculum should be reformed to include “the ecological crisis” The age of voting should be lowered to 16 so younger people can be involved in decision-making around environmental issues.
The third demand has the support of teachers who last Friday held their own protest to urge the government to reform the national curriculum and require schools to inform their students about the climate and ecological crisis that faces us. The government should, likewise, respond to demands 1 and 2. When I was growing up, the government made it their business to inform the public about the dangers of smoking, with the result that the numbers of smokers declined enormously.
If they would, with an equal, or preferably greater, sense of urgency pass onto (or better, urge upon) the public what they are being told by scientists, then the public would be more willing to accept and perhaps would even demand the necessary measures to keep carbon emissions down to the targets set in Paris in 2016. These will involve drastic changes in the way we eat, travel and produce energy, all of which will be expensive. We will have to invest in new energy infrastructures, new forms of agriculture and new kinds of vehicles.
It is time we all recognised the necessity of these things, and the urgency of the situation, taking Greta Thunberg’s advice to the World Economic Forum to act “as if our house is on fire.” The hope embodied in the movement Greta has inspired is that we might be forced by our children to do just that.