Turns out youth isn't wasted on the young Turns out youth isn’t wasted on the young
Today thousands of young people will take to the streets globally to demand action on climate change; it’s a movement called 'Fridays for Future' and 'Climate Strike'. It all started on 20th August 2018 when Greta Thunberg, then 15 years old, decided to show her discontent with the up and coming elections to the Swedish parliament. One issue seemed to have completely fallen off the agenda - climate change. The future of our planet took a back seat to debates on being tougher on crime and reducing immigration, just as it has in most elections in recent times, so Greta went on strike. She sat outside parliament every day until the election, and then every Friday since.
Soon it all took off, youth activism as it turns out is as much of a global phenomenon as climate change. As of December 2018, more than 20,000 students had held strikes in 270 cities and those numbers are expected to increase, with an estimation of strikes taking place in 1,659 places in 105 countries today. Youth activism isn’t new, in 2018 the US saw young activists leading the debate on gun control, with school massacre survivors Emma Gonzales and Davis Hogg making powerful and emotionally charged statements and then driving the “March for Our Lives” starting a movement that even the NRA couldn’t ignore. The annual “One Young World Summit” had more than 50,000 applications in 2018 and has had no problem getting world leaders to attend.
Greta has spoken at COP 24 as well as Davos and she is now nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, showing us all that youth activism has a given place at the table when we debate the future of our planet.
With apparent progress in advocates of science and data accepting climate change in the last decades, the drafting of the Paris agreement 2015, the Obama administration’s interest in green tech and the growing response to the SDGs we were on a forward trajectory. However there is currently serious cause for concern, with world leaders like Brazil's new foreign minister, who thinks climate change is a plot by cultural Marxists and Andrew Wheeler, President Trump’s acting EPA director, who doesn’t believe climate change is our greatest crisis. No wonder the young are worried about leaving the future of their world with the older generation.
The image of Greta Thunberg outside the Swedish parliament, however, sparked a different kind of debate in Sweden. Those opposing more stringent regulation and faster action questioned her parents' responsibility, if she is legally allowed to skip school and was called out her debating techniques as being more childish than adult. Then there are those that simply like to shift the focus from well-informed and passionate young individuals to talk about the missed day in school - Teresa May saw the 15 February marches in the UK as a disruption that increased teachers’ workloads. As someone who personally experienced the joys of the Swedish public-school system let me tell you, Greta isn't missing a thing. Maybe instead students are gaining a far more valuable life lesson by actual doing something, experiencing how democracy works, how media works and how, if they work together and connect with other young people all over the world, change is possible.
Why not celebrate when young people take an interest in their future and being active citizens, isn’t this exactly the kind of behaviour we need to keep our democracy alive and working? Politicians are elected to represent the people and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that young people are part of their constituencies and they should be careful not forget that in a just few short years these people will get to vote so it would be advisable to at least listen to them and make them feel like they matter. Because really what's so threatening about a 16-year-old telling us about reducing our emissions rates or the extinction of species and to change our behaviour to live more sustainably.
As we are reaching a point of no return, with our window for change closing, maybe it's just about time to grow up about climate change and listen to the voices of the future. So, to all those striking and marching today, I say “YOU GO!” and “Greta for president!”
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