Climate strike – we've had enough of politely asking governments to save our future

The young don’t need a fantasy of techno-fixes and “studying hard” to solve climate change. We demand action before it’s too late.

Alice Swift
15 March 2019
Two children hold a banner against climate change during the climate strike, London, February 2019
SOPA Images/SIPA USA/PA Images

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.”

Can there be a green populist project on the Left?

Many on the Left want to return to a politics of class, not populism. They point to Left populist parties not reaching their goals. But Chantal Mouffe argues that as the COVID-19 pandemic has put protection from harm at the top of the agenda, a Left populist strategy is now more relevant than ever.

Is this a chance to realign around a green democratic transformation?

Join us for a free live discussion on Thursday 22 October, 5pm UK time/12pm EDT.

Hear from:

Paolo Gerbaudo Sociologist and political theorist, director of the Centre for Digital Culture at King’s College London and author of ‘The Mask and the Flag: Populism and Global Protest’ and ‘The Digital Party: Political Organisation and Online Democracy’, and of the forthcoming ‘The Great Recoil: Politics After Populism and Pandemic’.

Chantal Mouffe Emeritus Professor of Political Theory at the University of Westminster in London. Her most recent books are ‘Agonistics. Thinking the World Politically’, ‘Podemos. In the Name of the People’ and ‘For a Left Populism’.

Spyros A. Sofos Researcher and research coordinator at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University and author of ‘Nation and Identity in Contemporary Europe’, ‘Tormented by History’ and ‘Islam in Europe: Public Spaces and Civic Networks'.

Chair: Walid el Houri Researcher, journalist and filmmaker based between Berlin and Beirut. He is partnerships editor at openDemocracy and lead editor of its North Africa, West Asia project.

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