On Friday (20 September), young people around the planet will take to the streets. The Green Party will be supporting them.
It’s hard to think of a time in history when the younger generations and those who came before them have been so divided on one issue on so wide a scale. Of course, in the UK there’s Brexit too. And maybe in the 1960s where the rise of birth control, rock and roll and feminism separated a liberal younger generation from their parents, but even that was comparatively localised.
Fuelled by the passion and energy of the young, the climate strike movement is truly global.
Greta Thunberg has been afforded a lot of the credit, but the worldwide shift in consciousness has not arisen from just one (albeit deeply influential) person. Generation Z – the oldest of which are now 22 – has been born onto a dying planet. It hasn’t taken them long to realise. ‘Eco anxiety’ – the new term for the very real anguish experienced from growing up with this existential threat hanging over your future – is being felt by children as young as 8.
It’s a very real and legitimate fear. Imagine being ten or twenty years old, with a whole life ahead of you, and hearing about a UN report that the planet you live on will be irreversibly wrecked by climate change if we don’t change course in 11 years.
Not only this, but that the destruction is the fault of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations. Generations who at best stayed silent and at worst plundered the earth for resources, spread plastics across every inch of the planet, and perpetuated a global energy economy based on filthy fossil fuels, all the while ignoring the scientific evidence that repeatedly told them that this was the wrong way to go.
I’m the dad of two teenagers, and one in her early twenties, and it genuinely keeps me up at night wondering what the state of the world will be when they are my age. I would say I’m incredibly proud of the young people who feel this way, and have channeled this anger and grief into something meaningful. But that would be to patronise the new spirit of resistance that has emerged despite the obstacles my generation have placed in its way. Their stand is inspirational and we should follow their lead. An acknowledgement that from their school curriculum to debates in Westminster, climate change is being left off the agenda. These activists will not stop until something changes.
The youth climate demonstrations are possibly the only mass protest you will ever see on the streets of Britain where the majority of the protestors do not have suffrage – just one more reason why we should lower the voting age. Two EU member states – Malta and Austria – have a minimum age of 16, as well as the Isle of Man, and in Greece it is 17. History will judge our own country harshly and ask why those who have been showing more awareness of the existential threat we face than many adults have been denied political representation.
It’s time they were given that voice. They have more than proven that they are worth that trust. These are not “future leaders” – they are taking charge today, and the time will come soon where they run our politics with the same fervour with which they take to our streets to demand action.
Until then, as adults we have a responsibility to amplify young people’s voices as much as possible. Green leaders and MEPs will be marching alongside our Young Greens on Friday across the country, standing side by side with our young party members, fighting for their future.
The climate strikes are controversial. They wouldn’t be doing their jobs if they weren’t. Many local authorities and schools are refusing to authorise their absence, making this an act of mass civil disobedience. And it is a challenge to an education system which is often part of the problem, not the solution, designed by governments to create economic units to compete and consume in a global marketplace.
Young people are saying that the time is up for business as usual. Everything must change. There is no place in a climate emergency for the status quo.