by Dick Smythe
How many of us, how many politicians, can muster the courage displayed by a 16-year-old Swedish girl, Greta Thunberg, who, starting in August 2018, has skipped school every Friday in summer heat, rain and winter snow to protest outside her nation’s parliament buildings about her government’s failure to address the rapid global warming that is changing Earth’s climate?
Or, what about 13-year-old Alexandria Villasenor who, on March 15, marked the 14th week of protesting climate-change inaction in front of the UN headquarters in New York City? She has sat, mostly alone, through much of the winter. That Friday, with plenty of company, she declared, “Today we are declaring the era of American climate-change dualism over.”
These young women’s “school strikes for climate” have gained increasing support around the globe. On March 15, students in nearly 100 countries and 1,700 locations – from India to South Africa to Greenland – joined their protest. Tens of thousands of students participated. Many scientists, including some in Antarctica, tweeted their support. Others joined the youth in the streets. More than 55 school boards, together with parent-teacher associations, student councils and educational unions in nine states, have signed climate resolutions in support of the youth activists.
Here in the U.S., demonstrations are being organized and led by a 16-year-old from Minnesota, a 13-year-old from New York and a 12-year-old from Colorado. Even younger children are participating. An eight-year-old girl stood before the Chico, California, Unified School District meeting and proclaimed, “Climate change is a threat to our future.” That young woman, accompanied by her brother, traveled to Washington, D.C., on March 28 for a youth and educator climate-advocacy day. They joined 130 to 150 other young people, aged six to 18, to deliver climate resolutions to the offices of all 535 members of Congress. Young Voices for the Planet cosponsored the event that included a news conference with national climate experts and youth advocates.
Let’s listen to what some of these young people are telling us.
“There are people in that building [gesturing at the U.S. Capitol] who are leaving behind a mess for us, for our generation to clean up. We need to do something about it – now.” (U.S.)
“Since our leaders are behaving like children, we will have to take the responsibility they should have taken long ago.” (Sweden)
“You’re stealing our future.” (Germany)
“Climate change is not a lie. We won’t let our planet die.” (U.S.)
“Make our planet great again. There is no planet B.” (Germany)
“You say you love your children above all else, yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes.” (Sweden)
“The whole point of the strike is to kind of disrupt the normal, day-to-day life because we want people to realize that this impending crisis, the climate crisis, is not normal. And it should not be normalized.” (U.S.)
How are the rest of us going to react? Are we still not convinced that climate change poses a significant threat to human habitability of planet Earth? There are some positive responses. Young people have the support of many leading environmental groups. In March, more than 250 scientists released a letter of support for the school strikes.
Will we continue to jeopardize the future of our young people by our inaction? Will we have the courage and initiative to push our elected officials to act responsibly, or are we content to continue behaving as if there is no possible way for us to make a difference? Are we willing to listen to our children and grandchildren and help them maintain a planet that is congenial to human life – to their life?
I sincerely hope so. Twenty-two scientists from 10 countries recently wrote a letter in one of our country’s most prestigious science journals, Science, applauding the concerns and actions of young protestors. This is their conclusion: “Only if humanity acts quickly and resolutely can we limit global warming, halt the ongoing mass extinction of animal and plant species, and preserve the natural basis for the food supply and well-being of present and future generations. This is what the young people want to achieve. They deserve our respect and full support.”
Dick Smythe and his wife, Mary, of Sister Bay sit on the Climate Change Coalition Steering Committee. Dick spent his career with the U.S. Forest Service.