An emergent generation inspires hope

| 14th March 2019
Student protesters holding placards at a Youth Strike for Climate demonstration

Student demonstrators taking part in the YouthStrike4Climate demonstration on 15th February.

The youth strikes provide real inspiration and a pathway toward climate and economic justice, after years of political failure.

The stagnation of business as usual politics has infected much of the UK’s political mindset and left the job of ensuring our planet's future to the youngest of us. On seeing the passion and dedication of their response, there is no doubt that they are the people for the job.

Days spent knocking doors to fundraise for a large environmental organisation in the UK can often be a frustrating and disheartening experience. Hours spent shuffling along rainy streets to be repeatedly told that the politicians are handling it, or that the current state of the climate isn’t something of much concern, can sometimes feel wasted.

Living in the country which sparked the coal-fired, steam-powered engine that’s dragging the earth towards climate catastrophe, you can be left wondering how the general public can distance itself from the realities of our current situation to such an extent?

This question can be quickly and succinctly answered when your turn your head towards the empty benches of the house of commons. Seeing this disconnection and lack of urgency mirrored precisely in the abysmal turn out at the most recent parliamentary debate on climate change, with on only ten Tory MP’s in attendance at certain points of the debate.

Excitement and urgency

The question becomes, how could you expect the citizens of the UK to take the issues surrounding climate change to heart when so many of their elected representatives treat it with such callous indifference?

One afternoon following the first Youth Strike for Climate on the 15 February 2019, I happened to be working on streets around Brighton which saw one of the biggest turnouts in the UK.

As the day stretched on and more and more young people returned home from the strike, the atmosphere and reception behind so many of the doors which opened in front of me was markedly different.

Young people, sometimes in groups or with their siblings, came hurrying to the door with stories about the strike, with questions about campaigns and with a sense of excitement and urgency.

From their faces and reactions it was clear that this had been more than a day bunking-off school. They were excited to discuss the issues that so many people twenty years their senior shrug off in indifference.

Generational rupture

There was no doubt that the young people I was speaking to understood what exists beyond the threats of the climate crisis, the possibility for a fairer, more just world which could arise from reforming our social and political systems around mobilising to stabilise the climate.

After this experience it struck me that this was a running theme that crops up time and again. Parents talking about how their children pick them up on recycling and palm oil, primary school age children coming to the door to talk about their roles as eco-officers for their class, parents signing up in their children’s names.

The Prime Minister may see these strikes as a waste of class time, but these strikes are the manifestation of a generational rupture in which the children and young people of the UK are rising up to protect what should be being protected for them.

The stagnation of business as usual politics has infected much of the UK’s political mindset and left the job of ensuring our planet's future to the youngest of us. On seeing the passion and dedication of their response, there is no doubt that they are the people for the job.

The rise of Youth Strike 4 Climate, UKYCC, Plan B, Extinction Rebellion and even to some extent Momentum, shows how the call for climate justice in this country has become a youth driven awakening of the political system.

These groups are the positive, alternative outlets for frustrated and disenfranchised social groups. Tory Brexit arose out of this same disenfranchisement to become the issue which has taken up the vast majority of public consciousness since June of 2016. Brexit has left so many young people feeling as though they’re watching their leaders rearranging their papers while the building burns.

Thunderous wave

The rising-up of a generation to stand peacefully against the acts of state and social violence which are systematically perpetrated against the planet, its animal inhabitants and the human citizens of the global south, is giving form to the academic discussion surrounding climate justice at an unprecedented scale.

Engaging with some of these young people and listening to their vision for a more just and equitable future has been one of the highlights of my time as a fundraiser.

Although some people may doubt it, sea levels are rising, the climate is being destroyed and we're at the precipice of environmental collapse. There is a youth led, peaceful and thunderous wave rising in response.

There will be many who have their doubts about this too, but as the next day of striking approaches, with Extinction Rebellion’s week of international rebellion following shorty after, there’s a sense that our last and best chance to enact the necessary social and political revolution is playing out in front of us.

Let’s hope that as more and more doors open towards our uncertain future, that behind them are stood the fearless and hopeful young people who have ignited this movement for climate justice.

This Author

Phil O'Sullivan is an environmental fundraiser and writes about climate justice.

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