We need to join our children in calls for action on climate change

So there’s a really big generational abyss here, because most parents over the age of 30 didn’t get that kind of education at any stage in their journey through primary, second-level or third-level education. So says Ailin Quinlan in her weekly column
We need to join our children in calls for action on climate change
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, center, speaks during an event at the EU Charlemagne building in Brussels, in the past week. Picture: AP Photo/Virginia Mayo.

THE chirp of invisible grasshoppers and the sight of ladybirds fearlessly landing on the back of my hand, are some of my fondest memories of a country childhood.

Watching murmurations — a kind of bird dance, or aerial ballet of large numbers of birds like sparrows or swallows — is another.

Not long ago, I heard a wildlife expert observing on the radio that murmurations — where birds fly en masse but seemingly with one mind, in a wonderful, swirling, shape-shifting living cloud — have become relatively rare in recent years. They were not rare when I was a child. I remember seeing lots of them.

Pondering this, I realised with a sinking heart that although we live in the heart of the country, I haven’t heard the sound of grasshoppers in a long time. And it’s years since a ladybird landed, frail wings fluttering, on the back of my hand. I’d simply been too busy to notice the gradual falling-away of the insects that dominated my childhood environment.

Just as noticeable, I now thought uneasily, has been the lack of flies around the place. Twenty years ago I’d grumble about how the family fruit bowl was always such a target for fruit flies in the summer months. On hot days, there would be a cloud of tiny fruit flies hovering around the place and bluebottles buzzing and wasps crawling around. Back then it was just a nuisance — but now I realise, it was a sign of a healthy natural environment. These days you could have a bowl of fruit sitting on the work-surface for days, without drawing a fly. And why? Because they’re simply not around anymore.

So I’ve started to pay more attention to the reports about children demanding urgent action about climate change. They’ve marched in America, Australia, New Zealand and the EU. In mid-February, hundreds of Irish school children from across the country took to the streets of Dublin to call on the Government to take action on climate change. They carried colourful hand-made banners, some of which read “There’s no Planet B” and “Save our Planet. They chanted slogans like : “What do we want? Climate action. When do we want it? Now.”

Children in Ireland and all over the world have been inspired by teenage Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who hit the headlines last August when she organised the first school strike for climate outside the Swedish parliament building. Since then, Greta has, quite literally, become a global phenomenon. She’s addressed conferences at the UN and Davos and her strike has inspired thousands of other young people across the world to carry out similar protests. Last month students in 30 towns and cities across the UK, from London to Cornwall and the Scottish Highlands, skipped school to protest about climate change. Thousands more demonstrated across countries like Belgium, Germany. Switzerland Sweden as well as in New Zealand and Australia. A global day of school strikes is being organised for March 15 next.

Children are saying their protests are being driven by an alarming lack of leadership by government on climate action. They carry their message which are similar to those waved by the Irish children, on homemade banners. “Don’t Let Our Planet Die” and “It’s Our Future” warn these slogans during the noisy, colourful demonstrations.

However the fact that children have had to take to the street about this is worrying. First of all because we adults are often oblivious to the fact that what the children are saying is scientifically correct. We are ignoring the fact that we have only about 10 years in which to reduce our harmful emissions to next to zero — or face environmental devastation. Children in fact, are often more conscious of this than their parents because they’ve been learning about climate change at school — schoolchildren in Ireland, for example, have participated in the Green Schools programme, and I read recently that nearly 20% of the entries to the BT Young Scientist competition this year comprised projects on climate. So there’s a really big generational abyss here, because most parents over the age of 30 didn’t get that kind of education at any stage in their journey through primary, second-level or third-level education. When I was at school we still regularly brought jars of tadpoles in to grace the nature table in Springtime. Try even finding a pond with tadpoles now…

So maybe that’s why real, effective action on climate change is not happening — many politicians in Ireland and around the globe are not taking it seriously. However they’re going to have to listen. When Rob Stokes, the Australian Minister for Education warned students against skipping classes to participate in the Global Climate Strike on Friday March 15 next — and even threatened sanctions against them — Greta Thunberg responded that his statement belonged in “a museum.” All Stokes’ warning will probably manage to achieve is to bring out even more students on the protest. This is, rightly, not going to go away.

The question is, however, how we adults should respond. We need to start listening to the children because after all, climate change is a problem created by our generation, not theirs. And if it is allowed to escalate unabated, the environmental catastrophe which will result from our generation’s carelessness and inaction will affect our children and their offspring far more than it will affect us.

We need to join with our children in calling for action on climate change, and we need to march with them — in every sense of the word.

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