Friday and beyond: the climate strike movement needs your voice too

September 18th, 2019

When you were 15, what was your biggest worry? An upcoming test, a crush, your friendships?

Today, 15 year old children and younger are kept awake at night because of thoughts of what this planet will be like when they grow up.

Too many are facing the impacts of rising temperatures right now as they go to bed hungry due to crop failure, are rendered homeless by a natural disaster, or are forced off their land by encroaching energy developments.

These young people haven’t been around long around to have caused the plethora of environmental and social breakdowns we are facing, but yet they are the ones who are facing them as they embark into adulthood.

Ask yourself, is this just?

Climate strike in Cork city Photo: Shamim Malekmian
Climate strike in Cork city Photo: Shamim Malekmian

Climate Justice Movement – recent changes and successes

I’ve been on the climate justice scene for almost five years now, which isn’t as long as many of my colleagues and friends, but it is long enough to have an understanding of how the movement has shifted recently and where we may be going.

Five years ago, climate change was the remit of those who frequented ivory towers and ecovillages, as well as policy wonks and ‘radicals’. Now, one hears the term almost daily on Newstalk, RTE has increased their climate coverage and is making it a feature of their autumn schedule and it is a regular feature on the front page of The Irish Times.

I have seen seasoned TDs and Senators sit down with secondary school students and ask them what should be done on climate as they have too many competing demands to be able to give the area the consideration it needs.

I have seen a network of connections between activists grow in the shadows in times of ease, and emerge fighting when necessity calls for it. This has developed in sophistication, inclusion and structure. Friendship is an act of resistance, and our shared understanding of the struggles we face has facilitated a supportive community that makes taking action in times of uncertainty all that more possible.

It is notoriously hard to measure the impact of activism as the effects are myriad, diffuse and often project well into the future. Over time the imperceptible accumulation and combination of media hits, advocacy efforts, citizen protest and fertile connections culminate in a moment of change which irrevocably shifts the paradigm of what is possible.

Student strike Dublin Photo: Kayle Crosson

Now is such a moment

Just over six months ago, the week before the first global strike that saw upwards of 15,000 children on Irish streets shouting for our elected leaders to protect them, I had the privilege of watching teenage climate leaders prepare what they were going to say to Ireland’s top politicians.

I couldn’t help but shed a tear and all I could think was – ‘I hope by the time these young leaders are in power, it’s not too late to fix this’.

When I began my journey into this world, I was already out of university and had not engaged with environmental activism whatsoever, bar the odd protest here and there. Luckily, I then had the opportunity to learn about topics such as neoliberalism, climate justice, just transition and historical responsibility from my peers, many of whom were younger than me.

The fact that thousands of children all around the world have to be preoccupied with these issues at such a young age is deeply jarring.

I have experienced first-hand the overwhelming propensity of policy-makers to ignore facts and muddy the waters of truth with claims of techno-fixes (not yet invented), energy security (but this is a global problem and emissions don’t care for borders), and need for constant economic growth (an economy based on fossil fuels that is required to grow year-on-year is untenable on a finite planet).

The children of today have a deeper understanding of the wicked problems we face and they get that climate change is a racist issue, a gendered issue, an economic issue. They have a multidisciplinary leaning and unparalleled ability to join the dots in un-siloed thinking and recognise the systemic issue at play here. If only our leaders could think like our children do.

Children’s Rally for Climate Action Photo: Kayle Crosson
Children’s Rally for Climate Action Photo: Kayle Crosson

Short window to act

The tragic underpinning all of this is that we have a tiny window left in which to act to make the societal and economic changes that are needed to avert catastrophe. At that point, some of these kids may have only been able to vote in one election in their life, let alone run for office.

I have no doubt they are changing the world and they will continue to do so until their reality matches their vision. But my heart breaks for them as I hear them laugh in their troves after a day spent strategising with senior level campaigners. I am terrified that when they are my age, it will be too late.

They need us, as engaged adults, to use our resources to fight for their future. I am working hard to provide spaces for them to convene strategise and build their resilience. But they need people like you to just show your solidarity and support with our shared struggle which has particular and pertinent impacts on the young.

You can do that by showing up at your nearest student-led protest march this Friday. They also need funding for practical things like stages and sound systems.

The system is already shaking and it will truly shatter when they come of age, but they need people like you and me to help them get there safely. It’s a scary world and activist burnout can take the best activists off course, and many of them never return.

The most important thing for any child to have is the feeling that they are safe. Let’s do that for these kids as much as we can, and get on the streets with them on Friday and beyond.

By Meaghan Carmody

Meaghan is head of mobilisation at Friends of the Earth Ireland and is the mobilisation coordinator of the Stop Climate Chaos coalition, specialising in grassroots organising and supporting individuals and groupsto develop skills necessary to carry out campaigns for environmental change

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