As Young People Lead On Climate Change, Adults Must Step Up!

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On Friday, May 24, over a million young people gathered in some 1,600 locations in 125 countries to plead for effective action on climate change.

Greta Thunberg climate activist

The global demonstrations were inspired by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old from Sweden, who told a gathering in Stockholm, “We are facing an existential crisis. We need to see change in all levels of society. We are in an emergency situation, but we are not behaving like that.”

According to a report by Frankfurter Allgemeine, despite Thunberg’s efforts, emissions in Sweden continue to rise as new airports are being constructed and old ones expanded. Thunberg appealed to adults to join the fight for the climate. “We know that you love your children above all else. But right now that does not work,” she said. “We ask you adults, give us a future!”

Writing in The New Yorker, long time climate activist Bill McKibben agrees. It’s time for adults to step up, he says. McKibben and dozens of prominent adults issued a call on Friday for people of all ages to join in a one day global strike on September 20.

What all of these people have in common is a strong sense that business as usual has become the problem, and that it needs to be interrupted, if only for a day. The climate crisis is a perplexing one because, mostly, we just get up each day and do what we did the day before, as if an enormous emergency weren’t unfolding around us. That hasn’t been true of past crises: during the Second World War, oceans may have separated American civilians from the fighting, but every day they were aware of the need to change their ways of life: to conserve resources, buy bonds, black out their windows at night if they lived on the coast.

The climate emergency, however, is deceptive. Unless it’s your town that day that’s being hit by wildfire or a flood, it’s easy to let the day’s more pressing news take precedence. It can be hard to remember that climate change underlies so many daily injustices, from the forced migration of refugees to the spread of disease. Indeed, the people who suffer the most are usually those on the periphery—the iron law of climate change is that the less you did to cause it the more you suffer from it. So we focus on the latest Presidential tweet or trade war instead of on the latest incremental rise in carbon dioxide, even though that, in the end, is the far more critical news.

A one-day work stoppage—a decision to spend a day demanding action from governments or building a bike path—is a way to break out of that bad habit. It gives people a chance to do the hard but necessary work of talking about an issue of paramount importance with their co-workers and bosses. And here’s my prediction: if you do, you’ll be surprised how many of those co-workers and bosses are grateful for the chance to do something. The trouble with global warming is not that people don’t care—indeed, polling shows that people care a great deal. But the crisis seems so big, and we seem so small, that it’s hard to imagine that we can make a difference.

In prior times, religious organizations were central to social change campaigns such as the civil rights movement. “But we live in an age when work defines our lives,” McKibben says. “So work is a crucial place to organize. In the past few weeks, employees at Amazon have brought together thousands of their co-workers to demand that the company reduce its carbon footprint. That kind of organizing is daunting, because it means confronting the boss. A one-day climate strike may be easier — you just have to tell your boss that you’ll be elsewhere that day. Or you could ask her to go along, too.”

But we adults have to try, he says. “There’s something fundamentally undignified about leaving our troubles to school kids to resolve. It’s time for the elders to act like elders.”

Mark your calendars, CleanTechnica stalwarts. Friday, September 20. Plan to join with your friends and fellow citizens to demand immediate, realistic action to cool our rapidly overheating planet. Meet in front of the CleanTechnica zero emissions world headquarters at 9:00 am and we’ll march downtown together.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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