The kids are worried — and they should be. They are watching their inhabitable world disintegrate at an increasing pace.
They’re angry, and have every right to be. They are not seeing any meaningful global effort to preserve a planet for them to exist on.
They don’t trust the grown-up power structure, and who can blame them? Time and again they’ve been dismissed with condescension and disdain by adults who have no vested interest in doing anything to slow the effects of climate change.
In the face of all that, they are trying — desperately, because desperation is the only option at this point — to raise consciousness, organize movements, generate action and force change as if their lives depend on it.
Because they do.
That ought to be enough to motivate the world’s adult population. Particularly if you are a parent or grandparent of any of these kids, or you simply care about them, how could you possibly be opposed to something that might help save them?
That’s the question Greta Thunberg keeps asking. The 16-year-old Swedish girl has become the face and voice of young people worldwide, not really promoting climate change action so much as insisting that adults take it seriously. She is wise, courageous and determined beyond her years — leading perhaps to the question of why someone older could not have done the same things. I think the answer is that no one would have paid nearly as much attention. Greta was a curiosity who turned into a phenomenon, thanks in large part to the digital-age dissemination of her message. That said, it is her insistent message that has endured after the novelty of a teen heroine was no longer was the story of the day.
Only a year or so ago, Greta drew attention with her first school strike for climate change action. She turned out to be articulate, persistent and forceful in a non-threatening way. Her peers paid attention. Last Friday, millions of young people (and to be fair, a lot of adults) around the world congregated in “climate strikes” to demand more than lip service. Students at Liberty Bell High School used their lunch break to gather. Another group formed in downtown Winthrop.
Greta has, in her public appearances, typically been composed and direct. But speaking at a panel during the United Nations climate summit this week, her impassioned, more-strident words unleashed emotions. She became visibility agitated and briefly wept, likely out of both exhaustion and frustration. In that moment, I realized that Greta, for all her worldliness, is after all a teenager who simply wants to grow up and have a life.
Hearing her words, and to a lesser extent seeing them in print, you feel the anguish that underlies her activism. She’s clearly dismayed that, instead of reacting responsibly, many adults are disingenuously drafting off her dramatic profile and youthful energy. Here’s some of what she said at the UN gathering:
“I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you?”
“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you?”
“For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear,” she continued. “How dare you continue to look away and come here and say you’re doing enough when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight? You say you hear us and that you understand the urgency, but no matter how sad and angry I am, I do not want to believe that, because if you really understood the situation and still kept failing to act, then you would be evil, and that I refuse to believe.”
“You’re failing us,” Greta concluded, basically referencing adults everywhere. “But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say, we will never forgive you. We will not let you get away with this.”
They should not.