Last week, regular CleanTechnica reader Thijs Buelens contacted me to ask if I was aware of the climate change protests taking place in Europe recently, most of them led by young people. (Full disclosure: Anyone born after the Eisenhower administration is a young person from my perspective.) He sent along some links to local news reports to educate me about what is going on across the Atlantic. So I bookmarked them and read them all over the weekend. I’m glad I did.
The schism between young and old people when it comes to climate change and what to do about it is wide. In general, older people are less concerned about how the world is being ravaged by rising average temperatures. “The ice in Greenland is melting? Piffle. Talk to me about my 401-K,” seems to be the prevailing attitude. Just as most politicians care little for what happens when they are no longer in office, most older folks have little concern about what happens to the Earth after their time on this mortal coil expires.
Young people always bear the brunt of the folly visited on society by their elders. Wars are declared by people in their 50s but are fought by those in their teens. Elders seem to take a special pleasure in saddling the young with intractable problems that supposedly wiser heads cannot solve. Kicking the can down the road is a generational game that has been played for hundreds if not thousands of years.
Older people delight in belittling younger folks, claiming they lack maturity, experience, and a deeper appreciation of the meaning of life. But in fact, they are unburdened by the cynicism and intellectual straitjackets that so often constrict the judgement of elders.
Greta Thunberg Goes To Davos
Last week, as the swells of the world gathered on top of a mountain in Davos, Switzerland to tell each other how great they are, Greta Thunberg, the teenager from Sweden who has inspired students around the world to pressure political leaders to take effective action on climate change, was on hand to remind the attendees that they have utterly failed to protect the Earth and its people while clawing their way to the top.
Thunberg has been criticized for being an opportunist controlled by radical parents. There are dark hints the Thunbergs are publicity hounds looking to become social media stars. How then to explain that Greta traveled 32 hours by train and camped out in sub-freezing weather with climate scientists on the side of a mountain to get her point across. How many of the über-wealthy on top of the mountain deigned to join her? If you said, “None,” go to the head of the class.
“We need to hold the older generations accountable for the mess they have created, and expect us to live with. It is not fair that we have to pay for what they have caused,” she says. She had some pointed remarks for those attending the mutual admiration society that is Davos, according to The Guardian. Here is a sampling.
“Here in Davos — just like everywhere else — everyone is talking about money. It seems money and growth are our only main concerns. And since the climate crisis has never once been treated as a crisis, people are simply not aware of the full consequences on our everyday life. People are not aware that there is such a thing as a carbon budget, and just how incredibly small that remaining carbon budget is. That needs to change today.
“No other current challenge can match the importance of establishing a wide, public awareness and understanding of our rapidly disappearing carbon budget, that should and must become our new global currency and the very heart of our future and present economics. We are at a time in history where everyone with any insight of the climate crisis that threatens our civilization — and the entire biosphere — must speak out in clear language, no matter how uncomfortable and unprofitable that may be.
“We must change almost everything in our current societies. The bigger your carbon footprint, the bigger your moral duty. The bigger your platform, the bigger your responsibility. Adults keep saying: ‘We owe it to the young people to give them hope.’ But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.“ (Emphasis added.)
Wow. As we used to say back in the 70s, “Tell it like it is!” Thunberg has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, which she believes helps her see the problem of climate change clearly. “My brain works a bit different and so I see things in black and white. Either we start a chain reaction with events beyond our control, or we don’t. Either we stop the emissions or we don’t. There are no grey areas when it comes to survival.”
Protests Abound In Europe
Thunberg’s penchant for speaking truth to power is having an effect. On January 27, 70,000 people gathered in a cold rain outside the European parliament building to urge political leaders to start taking global warming seriously. The chanted and carried signs with messages like “Stop denying the Earth’s dying,” and “What I stand for is what I stand on,” according to Euronews.
It was the fourth protest in the past 2 months to draw more than 10,000 demonstrators. On January 24, about 35,000 school children and college students skipped class to take to the streets with their climate demands, an action inspired by the words of Greta Thunberg.
Over the past weekend, more than 100 protest marches were scheduled all across France. The largest was in Paris, where demonstrators carried placards saying “Save a tree; Eat a lobbyist,” and “Ecology or Death!” In December, more than 2 million people signed an online petition demanding legal action against the French government for not taking adequate steps to address climate change according to a report by France24.
That action is quite similar to a suit brought by a group of young people against the US government seeking to force it to take bold action on the issue of climate change. A related legal action has been brought against the German government by three farmers and Greenpeace.
The movement to put climate change is moving front and center in the United States. On January 29, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg was in New Hampshire to test the waters for a presidential campaign. “[Trump’s] own administration produced a damaging report showing that we have what they called substantial damage to the US economy, environment and human health from climate change. And you know what the president said in response? ‘I don’t believe it,’ he said. How can you not believe it?” Bloomberg said according to a The Guardian. “What’s happening is really scary, and it may be irreversible…..What we need is a president that can lead us forward, instead of trying to drag us backwards.”
The confluence of young protesters and the Green New Deal initiative comes at a critical time for the world. In America, the Sunrise Movement is being promoted by a coterie of young enthusiasts energized by the election of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. That political ferment is beginning to have an effect on national politics as the new cohort of women who swept into office in November gather to begin their first term activities. There is a feeling of excitement spreading across the land as AOC, Bloomberg, Elizabeth Warren, and other political hopefuls inject the issue of climate change into their campaigns.
Can young people actually change the political calculus in nations around the world? Hopefully, the answer is yes but hope is not a plan. Fossil fuel interests have $26 trillion in assets still waiting to be extracted. They are not going to give up all those potential profits without a long and vicious fight. Do not expect their tactics to be fair. The road ahead will be long and fraught with danger.
Are these militant youngsters prepared for what lies ahead? “We’ll see,” said the Zen master. If they fail, we all may lose our last best hope of saving the world from destruction by humans.
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