Hope Lies in the Hands of the Youth by David Morgan
David Morgan has been a professional editor and journalist for over thirty years beginning his career on the subs desk of the Morning Star newspaper. He is editor of numerous historical publications under the Socialist History Society imprint. David’s interests and research include Turkey and the Kurds, literary figures like George Orwell, Edward Upward and William Morris, British anarchism, the 17th century English revolutionary era and the history of psychoanalysis. He has contributed towards many different publications and writes review articles, commentaries, opinion pieces, polemics and poetry.
The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, on 21 February this year, announced a plan to spend hundreds of billions of euros on measures to counteract climate change, which, if implemented, would amount to a fourth of the total European Union budget. The top Eurocrat was speaking alongside Greta Thunberg, the Swedish climate change activist whose selfless actions have inspired a global youth movement to defend the planet from global warming. Greta’s determination has even earned her a Nobel Peace Prize nomination from three Norwegian lawmakers in recognition of her activities as a leader of the youth campaign. She has so far inspired hundreds of thousands of teenagers to take similar action and the campaign shows no signs of abating.
Young Greta began her actions in August 2018 when she decided to make a personal gesture to persuade her government to act in response to witnessing heatwaves and forest fires that had devastated the countryside of Sweden. Her action was a simple one that proved effective: she would go on strike from school. Her demands were that Sweden reduce its carbon emissions in accordance with the Paris Agreement, and she began a peaceful protest by sitting down outside or picketing the Parliament (Riksdag) each day during school hours holding up a sign emblazoned with the words Skolstrejk för klimatet (‘school strike for the climate’). Through attracting the attention of social media her action caught the public imagination which led to her actions being quickly emulated by teenagers all over the world.
Evidence that climate change poses a real threat to the existence of our planet seems to be all too clear as does the fact that its capacity to sustain life is coming under strain. But it is only the youth who appear to be really getting the message. The signs of decay and imminent destruction are disturbingly all around us; you need to be wilfully blind not to see them, so it becomes all the more baffling that people, especially ones holding high office or powerful positions in business often remain stubbornly in denial. Their eyes are open but they cannot see or they refuse to see because it is not in their interests to do so. To admit that climate change is happening and that extreme climate events are occurring more frequently, and to accept as well founded the conclusion that this all can be blamed on the adverse impact of human activity on the natural environment are concessions that many are reluctant to make. To do this would demand real action to find radical remedies and serious solutions to address the enormous challenge. Young people are becoming increasingly aware that their elders are dragging their feet. It is thanks to the courage of young people such as Greta Thunberg who have stood up to bear witness to the folly of humanity that there is renewed hope of real change.
While the green movement has for many years made the necessary arguments for a radical change of political and economic direction it has so far proven to be ineffective at really changing public attitudes and shifting politics to a sufficient extent to save us from the fate of extinction. One meaning of the word “green” was someone who was naïve, gullible, unworldly and easily pliable. It was often used as a belittling term in reference to youthful innocence. The young activists of today are far from green in this respect. But they are green in the far more important sense of being true defenders of the planet and of our natural environment. Young Greta and her compatriots are the natural heirs of Wordsworth, William Blake, Winstanley the Digger, Ruskin, William Morris, Tolstoy, Edward Carpenter, Walt Whitman, and a host of other visionary thinkers who have sought to argue that humanity must live in harmony with our natural habitat.
A group called the UK Student Climate Network (UKSCN) was one of the groups established in response to Greta Thunberg’s initiative and it is campaigning vigorously to ensure that Britain takes more effective action to lower its own carbon emissions and that its political leaders fully accept that the world is facing a climate emergency. The students are not easily fooled or won over by empty promises and nice words. They plainly see through all the bluff and bluster of adults. It is after all their future that is at stake and they will accept no valid reason to postpone action. Desperate situations demand drastic action. The school strikes have inevitably been condemned by conservative leaning media and politicians, but what these students have been doing is entirely peaceful; in fact, it is inspiring and gives hope that something can be done before it is too late. A day off school is a very small price to pay.
The student activists have demanded that their schools include more lessons about the facts of the current climate crisis; they want more students to understand the dangers we are facing if we do not act. Remaining blind to the impact of climate change is not an option.
As we witness ever more devastating and destructive natural disasters unfolding all around the world, we are compelled to realise that we are all in this dreadful mess together. It is a global catastrophe the like of which turns reality into the plot of a science fiction novel or disaster movie. It is as if the writings of the likes of J G Ballard are becoming the inescapable reality. Science fiction is proving to be all too prophetic and it is a living nightmare that many simply don’t wish to confront.
Thankfully there are many Gretas who do have the courage to face up to the threat of global catastrophe and they retain the hope that human action can stop our slide into oblivion. What the young people in increasing numbers are saying ever more loudly is that global action is essential for our survival; how can we not act? Indeed, everyone must rally together to force their governments into sustained and credible action before it is too late. The stakes could not be higher. The changes are threatening the very existence of humanity and life on earth including all animal life across the world.
The changes are noticed all around the world. Record-breaking temperature incidents occur so often that they no longer attract much comment.
So far this year, Australia experienced record-breaking heat; the American Midwest was inflicted with freezing conditions colder than the Antarctic and, in the UK, temperature hit 20C in what was supposed to be wintertime. A devastating cyclone has destroyed homes and ripped up infrastructure across large parts of Africa claiming hundreds of lives. Crisis after crisis, one extreme weather incident after another, inflicting misery on communities, death and destruction, leaving wreckage and ruined lives in their wake with clean-up costs and reconstruction demands imposing financial obligations that are spiralling out of control, creating repeated and permanent national crises. People are coming to realise that this is now a permanent condition of existence and increasingly extreme weather is rapidly becoming irreversible.
Scientists have issued numerous stark warnings and it is time we listened to them. This is what the young people are now telling us. They have issued a warning that there is now little time left to act to reduce carbon emissions, before the effects of climate change become entirely irreversible. Young people seem more aware of this threat than their peers who are supposedly more mature and educated.
Hope lies not in any supposed Green New Deals touted by politicians jockeying for high office, but in the dreams and aspirations of the young who are as yet uncorrupted by the taste and trappings of power.
The young activists should not simply believe the top politicians who promise the earth but don’t deliver; and certainly will not deliver a thing if the pressure is taken off them. Equally, it is not possible to commend those in the UK who have been marching against Brexit, for a second referendum, erroneously described as a “People’s Vote” or taking to the streets of London to revoke Article 50 (the mechanism for leaving the European Union), as they did on 23 March. These actions, although they seem to have captured the imaginations of many thousands of young people, are not really worthy of their attentions because such campaigns are led by unscrupulous and failed politicians, with other agendas, such as pursuit of power for their own gain and to defend the institutions of the European Union, with their serious democrat deficit and bureaucratic inertia; institutions which ultimately obstruct the achievement of social justice and impede the change that is required to protect our planet from the dangers of climate change. The EU, it must be admitted, represents many of the major international corporations who are some of the leading polluters of the earth; the continent is the birthplace of the modern industrial revolution and combines some of the wealthiest countries who are most responsible for depleting the world’s resources driven by the economic ethics of growth and consumerism that guide all their actions and decisions. So, the idealistic young people who took part in such marches are having their dreams and aspirations hijacked for the sake of a project whose ideals stand firmly in opposition to their dreams and aspirations for a secure and happy future. This is a future that all humanity without exception deserves and for which we should all strive, but trust cannot be given to a collection of politicians whose past actions have contributed by their ill-judged policies to bring the world to its current impasse and cusp of a catastrophe the like of which has never been witnessed before.
One English student, Millie Hilditch-Gray, in Year 11 at Finham Park School, in Coventry, who took part in the recent school strike, wrote to her head teacher with these fine and powerful words:
“I propose to you the question that if the suffragettes had asked for permission, if Malala had asked for permission, if Rosa Parks had asked for permission, if Nelson Mandela asked for permission, if Martin Luther King Junior had asked for permission, would essential change ever had happened?”
This articulates a true political awakening of the world’s youth and this is where our hope for the future resides. Older generations, who have held the reins of power and who make the world-changing decisions in the board rooms, have brought us to the brink of disaster. That is an undeniable fact. If we grasp the enormity of what we face, there is still time to change course and we can start by listening to the young people like Greta Thunberg, who deserve to be properly heard. She has clearly shown that she possesses an amazing tenacity and that she has more wisdom at the age of 16 than all the adults combined who have messed up our world so terribly. Let’s hear it for our youth, too often wrongly pilloried for their selfishness and thoughtlessness, when in truth they are the future.