Inspired by Greta Thunberg, the sixteen-year-old Swedish climate activist, the Global Climate strike will see millions of school kids cut class over the coming week to demand climate justice for all and an end to the age of fossil fuels.
The kids have earned this week of protest, and adults would be wise to listen and get acting.
But as well-backed as they are by reputable organizations the world round, and as much as any sane adult wants this movement to succeed, it remains far from certain the kids can force the meaningful change so desperately needed to address the climate crisis.
Will the chorus of young voices this week brings crescendo then fade as vested interests and adults parse the issue into paralytic overcomplication?
One reason why, many reasons why not
Evidence from other social movements suggest the potential for success is at least as great as the inertia of all the ‘why nots’ adults will apply to inadvertently sap the kids’ energy.
In their favor, the kids have a simple message: end the age of fossil fuels and have climate justice.
These are slogans kids can unite around. They understand how bad fossil fuels are to their future. And what child or teen doesn’t viscerally and emotionally connect with fairness?
More importantly, the kids assess climate in the black and white terms that make them so often annoyingly kid-like. Except this time, they are entirely right to stamp their feet and hold their ground. There really are no shades of grey about the substance of this crisis.
Another advantage that kids have is that they intuit peer-driven movements. They share and open source at will. Their world is the very definition of a Venn diagram linking all possible relations between collections of different groups.
These strengths have brought together millions with disparate interests in an unencumbered understanding of the climate crisis. They have created nothing short of a shared global consciousness.
Millions on board makes it so hard to move
Yet as incredible as this is, getting millions to rally around a slogan is the easy part.
Answering the question of just how to meet the Climate Strikers’ demands, particularly that of climate justice, is a different challenge altogether
What should we do to end the era of fossil fuels? Their carbon emitting tentacles have a death on grip almost every part of our economic and social life.
It is an huge, messy question, with myriad conflicting responses, interests and priorities (many of which are highly vested in our current way of life).
What should we do? Outlaw fossil fuels? Ban the combustion engine? Get rid of all plastics? Mandatory vegetarianism. Do away with air travel?
Simple tactics for a complex problem
So where can the kids turn? History provides some lessons.
When Ghandi wanted the Raj out of India he led with ending table salt taxation. Simple to understand with an achievable objective, this tactic made sprinkling salt a daily act of rebellion in almost every Indian household.
The once hugely popular Occupy Movement provides a good counter lesson. Despite a simple message, ‘Wall Street is bad,’ the movement wound up getting exactly what it specifically asked for: nothing.
The Climate Strikers could look to the UK born #ExtinctionRebellion for guidance. The Rebels are demanding government(s) must act immediately to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025. These simple and measurable objective are something you can chain yourself the London Stock Exchange building for; and, as important, it lets you know when to unlock yourself as well.
Coopting the opponents
Getting beyond slogans and big crowds by defining a realistic goal is only the first of the kids’ next biggest challenges.
It is not enough to command attention and move believers. Any successful movement must also inspire opponents to join the cause.
I dont mean climate crisis deniers.
They are not the problem. They are the ‘Slim Pickens’ of climate riding their SUVs over a cliff while eating a hamburger cussing Greta’s name the whole way down.
Forget them, their days are numbered. The real enemy is us, the believing parents who fail to act.
Agnostics to action
Yes, we share the kids’ values (i.e., we believe), but if we are honest about it, we do almost nothing to alter our lifestyle to address climate change in a meaningful way.We spout the slogans, but practice RealKlimatepoliticks waiting for ‘they’ and ‘them’ to make change happen Click To Tweet
We spout the slogans, but practice RealKlimatepoliticks waiting for ‘they’ and ‘them’ to make change happen.
To be fair, our resistance can not be metered by losing a day of school. We have to put food on the table, pay the mortgage, care for our families, fill sales quotas, save for college, and on and on.
An unwitting Fifth Column
Yet, we are an unwitting Fifth Column undermining the very values we seek to uplift with our children. Our own Ven diagram is set in stone. And its map to change one we either don’t know how or are too overwhelmed to change.
Despite the high definition clarity of what the climate crisis threatens, the Climate Strikers’ cure is as endlessly debatable as it is clear.
Being proud of the kids is important, but they need our resolution. This requires definitive action, whether we know what works or not.
We will be judged by what we do, or not in the coming decade. There can be no doubt about that.
My greatest fear? Is that our resistance to the kids’ clarion call may well be the cry of anguish history will claim as having gone unheeded by exactly those who could have made a difference. Us.
Be an adult. Act.