From one school girl’s lonely but headstrong protest, the school strike for climate has grown into a worldwide movement.
There are issues around it… but other ones than commonly called out.
A Background of Environmentalist History
My perspective on the whole topic is a peculiar one. I was very active in the “eco” field when I was still in high school. On TV, at conferences, in various venues. That was all at the time around the original Rio de Janeiro “Earth Summit,” though.
If that doesn’t ring a bell: That was in 1992.
Environmental awareness was high at that time. Concern about the ozone hole met the fight against rainforest destruction; sustainability became a buzzword and even many a company and head of industry seemed to be getting behind that.
Severn Cullis-Suzuki, barely 12 years old, stood in front of the UN representatives assembled there and delivered a speech that moved all.
And then-US president George H.W. Bush stated that “the American Way of Life is not up for negotiation”…
What came next – in spite of the Earth Summit’s Convention on Climate – was only the rise of globalization, the internet boom, the world’s population growing tremendously.
People like Severn Cullis-Suzuki – or I – having to find ways to make a living.
I could show you lots of literature from around then which would sound just like statements in support of sustainability and ecological ways of doing things of today.
We didn’t, collectively, follow up on any of them, though. Our economies and ways of life still run, for the dominant part by far, on unsustainable practices.
Now, we only have a pretty sure certainty of climate change added into the messy mix. And more people and higher standards of living and aspirations.
What are the usual complaints about school strikes?
“Stupid kids should learn something.”
Sure. And I do see that there are enough kids at school strikes who take it as a party, beer and all. Adults aren’t exactly presenting a very responsible adult example, though.
This counter of mine may be whataboutist, but it’s also right. As the usual counter goes, the learning won’t serve much good in a destroyed world. And engagement with the world, its “burning” and its politics, is a good lesson.
“These young people don’t have any idea of the challenges.”
Yeah, they don’t have to find work, make a living, all that.
I honestly fear this is going to be a negative result of having a spearhead figure of the whole movement: If Greta Thunberg doesn’t manage to find work that isn’t just activism, that doesn’t truly change anything, she’ll just be written off as another talking head. Even with a potential Nobel Peace Prize.
But, sheesh, we’re getting to the same point as before: So, isn’t it adults’ responsibility to adult? To create new ways of doing things, to invent stuff?
Aren’t we supposedly in an age of entrepreneurialism? So, why is the entrepreneurial approach to one’s own life only drop-shipping via Amazon, working on online marketing as a digital nomad with the footprint of a small country from all the flying? Creating apps to “solve humanity’s problems” while doing nothing but capture user data?
Lack of Understanding
I have to call out the environmentally conscious on that point – and here I see the major issues:
When your environmental awareness does not reach far enough to realize that we all need to make a living, hence need to have ways to do so that work for us and the world, it is just as thin a veneer as corporate greenwashing.
If you do not start out from an awareness of our desire to do good and do well, to aspire to good lives, you start out from a lack of understanding about human lives.
“These young people also fly on vacation, all have their smartphones, want cars…”
An understanding that we live in certain circumstances and cannot easily escape them, that awareness of our desire to live good lives… it all hides right in this common criticism of the climate strikes’ participants.
But of course we will all see our circumstances as normal when they are what we grew up with.
Of course we will have to live in this world, use its tools if we want to change things.
It will be a big challenge to change things successfully when aspirational lifestyles are those of the overconsuming rich and famous. When even smaller examples of aspirational and inspirational living have carbon footprints that are enormous and use green-sounding statements only to make themselves even more popular.
Is that reason to just throw up our arms and give up, though? Or to take the chance to prevent a future that humanity cannot exist in, create solutions to adapt to a changed world and maybe find ways to colonize Moon and Mars while we are at it, and solve our problems with the worst of (not only, but especially, social) media radicalization, in the passing?
And if you don’t believe we can, realize that we still need to try.