Monday, September 9, 2019

Sea Levels are Rising – and so are Global Youth

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

This quote, not lacking in power despite it being often misattributed to Mahatma Ghandhi, was surely on the minds of those following the character assassination Greta Thunberg by People's Party of Canada leader Maxime Bernier. Tweeting to his followers on Monday to attack the 16-year-old climate striker, Bernier called the young woman from Sweden an “alarmist” and a “threat to civilization” and “mentally unstable” because Thunberg wants the world's leaders to take seriously the pledges they made in Paris in 2015 to hold global heating to just 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The only coherent part of Bernier's rant against Thunberg was the idea that she embodies a serious threat to life at the end of the Oil Age. Thunberg, and the global climate strike movement of children and teenagers that she has inspired, is a clear and present danger to not just outright climate deniers like Max Bernier – but to all status quo national leaders who refuse to take serious action to massively reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade (see: On the Malicious and Scientifically Illiterate Bullies Afraid of Greta Thunberg,” Andrew Mitrovica, Common Dreams, September 2 2019).

By 'status quo' leaders, of course I mean just about everyone in a position of authority in the world right now. Thunberg has made it her mission to call out global leaders for not doing enough – for breaking their promises and shirking their responsibilities to constituents, and to the generations that are powerless to act because of their youth. Or because they have not yet been born.

Following in Thunberg's footsteps is 12-year-old Sophia Mathur. Mathur has been the force behind Sudbury's very own #FridaysForTheFuture climate strikes. Later this month, the grade 7 student will be in Washington DC sitting on a panel with Thunberg at an Amnesty International awards presentation. After that, Mathur and Thunberg and other young climate champions will travel to New York City to attend what is being billed as the biggest international climate strike in history. That's no small brag – in March this year, an estimated 1.6 million young people took to the streets in 133 countries.
Sophia and Greta

Like Thunberg, Mathur shrugs off the small number of adults that, for whatever reason, feel intimidated and scared of teenaged climate activists. In Mathur's experience, most adults have been onside and appreciative of the work that she and other climate strikers have been doing to bring public attention to the climate crisis, and asking for elected officials at all levels to act.

“Almost all adults in northern Ontario have been supportive,” Mathur says. “I am happy I live in northern Ontario because local politicians, including all city councilors, the mayor, and all MPs and MPPs here in Greater Sudbury have been really helpful. For example in February, us Fridays For Future youth asked the adults to get our city to declare a climate emergency. Then a whole bunch of adults went to work. At the end of May the climate emergency was declared unanimously.”

As Thunberg's arrived in New York last week after a two-week long voyage across the Atlantic on a 60-foot, emissions-free sailboat, school children chanted: “Sea levels are rising – and so are we! There is no Planet B!” (see: Climate Activist Greta Thunberg, 16, Arrives in New York After Sailing Across the Atlantic”, August 28 2019). These words, coming from the lips of empowered young people, must chill Bernier to the bone.

Mathur's take on Bernier is prescient: “We learned in kindergarten to respect each other no matter what the other person’s opinion is. It’s childish, un-Canadian and rude to call people names in an argument. This is the behaviour of a bully.”

With Mathur and Thunberg and the global climate strike movement as examples for all of us, perhaps it's time we adults started behaving like children.

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the Green Parties of Ontario and/or Canada)

Originally published online and in print as, "May: Sea levels are rising – and so are the youth of the world," at the Sudbury Star, Saturday September 7, 2019 - without hyperlinks.