The ‘Adults’ in the Room: How Children Will Save the Planet
I started this essay months ago, then lost my thumb drive. And no, I do not yet keep my work on a cloud somewhere—trust me, I know. The thumb drive has since been returned, and while I finished the article, I do worry that it’s lost a little bit of its thunder, presuming, that is, it had any in the first place.
Thanks to Google Alerts, in recent weeks my inbox has been filled with articles from all over the world about young people protesting for change regarding the current climate crisis. At first, I simply looked passed them; however, as days turned into a week, and then two, and now more than a month later, the articles kept coming: Germany, Australia, Sweden, the U.S. and the UK. What I at first took for a passing phase, like so many other issues, turns out to be a global movement of school-aged children, often supported by tens of thousands of protestors.
What is happening?
From the U.S. to the UK, and from Sweden to Australia: Young people—students—have. Had it. Sarah Kaplan of The Washington Post recently published a piece that sums up the global movement nicely:
Adults who underestimate the movement do so at their own peril. Since late last year, strikes in European cities have regularly drawn tens of thousands of participants. More than 15,000 people showed up for a strike in Australia — even after their prime minister urged them to be “less activist.” (Kaplan)
And the movement is gaining momentum. Luisa Beck, also of WAPO, reports that, “In late January, some 30,000 students protested in three Belgian cities. The same week, more than 10,000 skipped school in Germany, holding signs that read ‘Make our planet great again’ and ‘There is no Planet B.’’”
Like the climate crisis, this is not a passing phase, nor is it going away if we (the “adults” in the room) simply ignore it.
This essay will not bog readers down in an argument about whether climate change is real or whether we are in a crisis. Those who choose to deny the crisis in the face of overwhelming evidence choose ignorance willfully, and are no different from flat-earthers. However, a few statistics regarding the dire necessity of action merit discussion. They are as follows:
50%: the amount of total oceanic coral reef that has been destroyed due to warming and acidifying oceans in the last thirty years; oceanic corals, as a whole, support around 25% of all ocean life. 22,500,000: the number of people displaced by ecological breakdown since 2008; the current civil war raging in Syria can be traced directly to droughts brought on by a degrading climate. $100,000,000: the amount of money Miami is investing to raise its streets in order to fight rising sea-levels that flood the city with the tides; this will mitigate the issue for roughly forty years, and then Miamians will have to find yet another solution. 1,000-10,000 times: the accelerated rate at which human activity is causing extinction among non-human species—plant, animal and insect alike.
To build on this final point, scientists estimate that we may be losing dozens of species every day. Extinction happens naturally, true, but we find ourselves, not-so-suddenly, in the middle of the sixth mass extinction, and it’s moving very fast. In fact, since I started researching and writing this article, the UN has published a report that estimates humans will eradicate as many as 1,000,000 species of plants and animals within the lifetime of readers of this blog. These things are not happening tomorrow; they are not coming next week; they are happening now.
So, how are children making a difference?
In August of 2018, Greta Thunberg, then fifteen, of Sweden, started skipping school on Fridays to protest the lack of action on the part of politicians, those who have the power to affect change, outside the Swedish Parliament (Riksdag). Her actions soon garnered national and international attention. In December of 2018, she was given the opportunity to speak at COP24. Here’s part of what she had to say:
You only speak of green, eternal economic growth because you are too scared of being unpopular. You only talk about moving forward with the same bad ideas that got us into this mess, even when the only sensible thing to do is pull the emergency brake. You are not mature enough to tell it like is. Even that burden you leave to us children. But I don’t care about being popular. I care about climate justice and the living planet. Our civilization is being sacrificed for the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue making enormous amounts of money. Our biosphere is being sacrificed so that rich people in countries like mine can live in luxury. It is the sufferings of the many which pay for the luxuries of the few.
If that caused piloerection—ahem, the scientific term for when hairs stand up on your flesh—you should watch her speak. The adults in the room have proven, again and again and again, that they will not take a meaningful stance or implement meaningful change: all in the name of progress, money, the bottom line. Regardless of what they say, business as usual is the message the adults send with their actions. All of those in power now will be dead and gone by the year 2078, the year in which Thunberg will turn seventy-five: “The year 2078, I will celebrate my 75th birthday. If I have children maybe they will spend that day with me. Maybe they will ask me about you. Maybe they will ask why you didn’t do anything while there still was time to act.” Children are standing up for a better future for themselves, because, in Greta’s words, politicians are “stealing their [children’s] future right in front of their very eyes.” Our children and our children’s children will inherit the Earth we leave them. They know this. They want us to act before it is too late.
Since then, Thunberg’s popularity has grown. She has 1.6 million followers on Instagram and her posts regularly get hundreds of thousands of likes and hundreds of comments. She speaks to governments all over the world and has given a Ted Talk, and, most impressively, has recently been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her climate activism. She is a true activist, and not someone simply Tweeting or posting for likes, shares and popularity; she has stated flatly that she doesn’t care about those things. Or, if she does, it is simply to spread the message for people to take action as far and as wide as possible. She recently spoke at the British Parliament, at one point asking, “Is the microphone really on?”, to which an adult replies, “You’re just very quiet”, and Greta, seemingly ignoring the remark, asks another question: “Did you hear me?”. She is not really asking if people in the room can hear her. She knows the mic is on; she knows they can “hear” her. She is suggesting they’re not listening. Perhaps more than suggesting: accusing. And she’s right. At a time when we are facing an ecological breakdown and environmental self-destruction, oil companies are seeking to expand exploration in the Arctic, and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently suggested a melting Arctic is great for business because it will open new shipping lanes. In the face of the facts of a looming disaster, the adults in the room display the worst kind of ignorance: willful.
So, what will happen? Unless we start putting the environment first, and profits second, we face a very different, very undesirable future. Until we make real investments in renewables and sustainable technology and progress, the environment will continue its ecological decline. There will be more droughts, which will lead to greater displacement of humans, which will lead to more congestion, then to more strife, more competition for fewer goods and to war. The time to take action is now. The planet can’t wait.
Get out there and do something.
Let me know your thoughts.