Op-Ed: Island Voices: A generation is calling for our help


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As appears in Times Colonist

Just over one year ago, a high school student in Sweden named Greta Thunberg walked out of school to strike for the climate.

Frustrated and demoralized by the inaction she saw around her, she decided to try to make a difference, if only as a single person. She made a placard, walked out of school and went to hand out leaflets at the Swedish parliament. Within a year, she had started a movement, and last spring more than one million children worldwide joined her in the first global climate strikes.

Greta has a way with words, with her uncanny ability to plainly and calmly speak truth to power. But the movement that has sprung up this past year is not about her personality or speeches. It is about the very real, and very consequential damage that is happening to our planet and our ecosystems.

The scientific consensus, as delivered in last year’s report by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a dire warning: the weather events, changes to our food systems, and social breakdown we face are catastrophic. No wonder the members of Generation Climate, who still have more than half a century on this planet, are terrified.

“Tell the truth.” This is the slogan of Extinction Rebellion, another climate action movement that seemingly grew out of nowhere this past year. It is an apt slogan, and perhaps helps to explain some of the frustration that young people are feeling. Because the reality is, for the most part, the adults of the world have not been telling the truth. We have not been talking about it enough, we have not acknowledged how serious the problem is, and we have not been frank about what it will take to change things. Under our watch, during my lifetime, global emissions have more than doubled.

Generation Climate is learning very fast, without our help. Two of my favourite slogans that appeared on placards during last year’s climate strikes were: “system change not climate change” and “it’s not about recycling.” Interestingly, these are both political slogans, more than environmental slogans.

Youth today know how to go online and find and read the report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They know that even now, emissions worldwide are increasing, not decreasing. They know that the world’s scientists have told us, we have only 11 years left to halve our emissions levels through a radical transformation of society. What they are now starting to grapple with is, how do we make this transformation happen? After a year of acting on their own, they have come to the conclusion that they need our help. So in May of this year, they publicly put out the call for adults to join them during this September’s global climate strike — “we need everyone.”

Greta likes to say that we need to act as if our house is on fire, because it is. As a teacher and a parent, I see another metaphor. When a young child is in distress, what does a parent do? They stop everything and help. No questions. No delays. No worrying first about the disruption or inconvenience one might cause. The welfare of one’s child is the single, and urgent, goal.

We now have a whole generation of children in distress and they are calling out for our help. Let’s answer the call.

The full list of events organized in Victoria for September’s global climate strike week of action, taking place Sept. 20-27, can be found at ourearthourfuturevictoria.com.

Tara Ehrcke is a parent, teacher and member of Parents 4 Climate.