When my family taught me about climate change as a child, I remember being absolutely terrified. My fears heightened when I learned in my biology and geography lessons the full extent of our climate and ecological crisis.
I am not alone in this fear. My millennial generation’s sense of impending doom guides many of our decisions, from deciding not to bring children into this world, to seeking hedonistic excesses because “what’s the point anymore?”
And today’s children are faced with an even harsher reality. By the time they are my age (28) it will be too late. The twelve years we have to turn this ship around to mitigate extreme climate breakdown will have passed.
Theresa May told kids during the last Climate Strike that they should instead attend their lessons and study hard “so that they can develop into the top scientists, engineers and advocates we need to help tackle this problem”.
But by then it will be too late. The window of opportunity will have closed and these children will be faced with a much more terrible reality than if we were tomorrow to strongly mitigate against a higher than 1.5 degrees warming scenario.
May’s statement is typical of right-wing and centrist responses to climate change. It involves the notion that we can continue our capitalist economic system’s ‘business as usual’ so long as we invent techno fixes to deal with the impending climate breakdown. It is impossible for them to see that capitalism cannot continue endless economic growth on a planet of finite resources.
Of course we need a huge investment in technology to mitigate against extreme climate disaster – but it will involve an investment in technology driven by social and ecological good, not the interests of capitalism in seeking increased profits.
And May’s statement ignores the fact that we already have the vast majority of technology and knowledge to transition to a low-carbon economy. What we don’t have is the political will do so because a fossil fuel-based capitalist economy benefits the political elite.
The children out on strike today know this all too well. They, like me, have been taught from a young age about the severity of the ecological crises we are living in. They have been taught about the capacity for renewables we are not effectively transitioning towards. They recognise that we do not have the political will, which is why they are using one of the most effective political tools we have at our disposal, the strike.
Some of the biggest societal shifts have come about as a result of strikes and workers movements, including the creation of the welfare state. This old tactic is a tried and tested way of gaining leverage against the political elite. It’s a tactic we saw again last week, with the annual International Women’s Day Women’s Strike shining a light on the often invisible work of women to continue to reproduce ourselves and the next generation.
Our children are sending us a very clear message with the power they have gained collectively – “do something now, we will be the ones to deal with the mess you have left.” The likes of Greta Thurnburg have been very clear that – unlike much liberal environmentalist lobbying – her generation are not politely requesting that governments act when they strike. Instead they are building a movement to force action on climate change whether the climate denying hard-right or capitalist liberals like it or not. As she has said, “you say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes.”