I fear what future holds for my children and their kids

In his weekly column, Michael Kelly,  author, broadcaster and founder of GIY, talks about the young woman driving the 'School Strike for Climate', a movement which has exploded into a world-wide movement of youth activism.
I fear what future holds for my children and their kids
Greta Thunberg, 16-year-old Swedish activist and founder of the school strikes against climate change, addresses the Extinction Rebellion demonstrators at Marble Arch in London. Picture:  Victoria Jones/PA Wire

I WORRY for Greta Thunberg: 16 years old and famous already as one of the most compelling climate activists we’ve ever seen.

She first became aware of climate change at the age of eight, and by aged 11 she had become depressed that nothing was being done despite the existential threat to our planet.

Her ‘School Strike for Climate’ started as a solitary act of protest at the Swedish parliament to ‘try and do something good with her life’ but has since exploded in to a world-wide movement of youth activism. Over 1.4 million students worldwide joined her call to protest in March of this year.

It is remarkable to watch this young woman speak her truth to power. She travelled to Davos by train and lambasted the high-net-worths in attendance for travelling in by private jet. She told them they needed to start acting like their house was on fire, and hoped they would start to feel the fear about climate change that she did.

At the EU parliament, the raw pain and upset was evident as she spoke movingly about the impact of humankind on our planet.

In London she slated the UK for allowing new offshore oil drilling and fracking.

Various politicians have made the mistake of assuming there’s something cute about children protesting about climate change. Condescended to by adults and told to study to become a climate change scientist, Greta said there was no point since the science is already proven. And in any case, why study for a life that won’t exist?

Michael Kelly founder of GIY. Picture: Patrick Browne 
Michael Kelly founder of GIY. Picture: Patrick Browne 

For every adult in a position of power who soft-soaps it and says we should do our best, Greta retorts that’s not good enough. You can’t be a little bit more or less sustainable — either you are sustainable or you’re not. Slowly, leaders are realising there is nothing pleasant or even advisable about a photoshoot with Greta.

She has said her Asperger’s helps her to see things in black and white, and it is the utter uncompromising nature of her message that marks this out as a watershed moment. Her message? The time for tinkering has passed. We need to completely remake society to avoid catastrophe.

Completely change how we eat, don’t drive, don’t take flights. Perhaps at this 11th hour, this is exactly what we need — someone to really tell things as they are. But, these are things that most people in society are not yet ready to hear, and the inevitable backlash is beginning. And so we witness adults taking pops at a 16 year old girl with autism in traditional and social media — questioning her motives, calling her a ‘millennial crazy’ and a ‘weirdo’.

So, I worry. I worry about the backlash. I worry about the gruelling nature of her round-Europe travel (by train) and endless speech-making. I worry about the pressure for a young woman when tens of thousands of people show up to watch her speak and expect her to offer solutions to the problems we’ve created. I worry that someone so young should have to carry the responsibilities and the hopes that she’s carrying. I worry that we’re raising her too high on a pedestal, and about her burgeoning celebrity.

Most of all, I worry about the implications of what she’s saying for the cosy lives we lead. I worry how the future will look for my own children and for their children. Up to now I’ve always believed that all we can do is put our own houses in order — to live as sustainably as we can on a personal level. Now I know that’s not good enough. And so perhaps this — to be finally shaken from the cosy consensus — is an indication that Greta’s black and white protest is starting to have an effect.

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