It’s not entirely up to school students to save the world

By | May 24, 2019

Bill McKibben writes:

In the past several months, people around the world have watched in awe as school students, led by the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, have taken their concerns about the climate crisis to a new level, with a series of one-day strikes. The latest took place on Friday, and drew what is estimated as more than a million participants in a hundred and twenty-five countries. The strikes have been the biggest boost yet for the global climate movement, galvanizing public attention by reminding people just who will have to deal with the mess that older generations have created. Thunberg has spoken to the Pope and to the British and European parliaments—and this week she and her fellow student leaders are speaking to everyone else who’s older than them. On Thursday, they issued an appeal to adults to take up the same tactic, and on Friday a number of them responded, with a letter pledging to organize the first of a series of all-ages, one-day climate strikes, on Friday, September 20th. (I was among them and helped draft the letter.) The initial list of signees is composed of a wide array of, well, adults, from around the world. Some have spent their lives trying to make change from within the system, such as Christiana Figueres, the United Nations diplomat who served as the lead negotiator of the Paris climate accords. Others are writers (Margaret Atwood, Barbara Kingsolver), scientists (Tim Flannery, of the University of Melbourne; Katharine Hayhoe, of Texas Tech), trade-union leaders (Sharan Burrow, the general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation), and indigenous leaders from Australia (Anne Poelina) to America (Tom B. K. Goldtooth) and the Arctic (Jenni Laiti).

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. [Continue reading…]

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