On August 20, 2018, a 15-year-old Swedish girl, Greta Thunberg, skipped school. She felt compelled to make a difference about the issue that would determine her future: the climate crisis. The adults sure weren't doing enough. So she sat alone outside the Swedish Parliament with a sign saying "School Strike for Climate."
As the days followed, other students joined her, and word spread - all around the world. On a day in December, more than 20,000 students were striking in at least 270 cities. On March 15, 2019, around 1.4 million students in 112 countries went on strike. Just recently, May 24, an estimated 1.8 million students in 125 countries took part.
In addition to the climate strike movement, in the British Isles there is the "Extinction Rebellion." Young people are protesting and disrupting business as usual because business as usual is disrupting the climate. Moved by this commitment, the governments of the United Kingdom and Ireland officially recognized what has become obvious: we are in a "climate emergency."
Here in the U.S., we have the Sunrise Movement, students who are promoting the Green New Deal as a way to respond to the urgency and magnitude of this crisis. They are effectively pressuring presidential candidates to take a stand for a livable future.
Why all these uprisings by our youth? UN General Secretary António Guterres has given the answer: "My generation has failed to respond properly to the dramatic challenge of climate change. This is deeply felt by young people. No wonder they are angry."
Unlike so many in my generation, today's youth know full well that they face inheriting a degraded and dangerous planet. The last vestiges of climate denial are not worth their attention, and slow, incremental steps are inadequate to this emergency.
These inspiring movements are certainly idealistic, because their aim is the common good of all who share this planet. But they are also realistic, because they take seriously what climate science keeps telling us.
Will the older generations listen and take up their responsibility to avert a climate catastrophe? I'm not optimistic, given how American politics is dominated by corporations and the super-rich. But I keep thinking of lines someone from my generation wrote over 50 years ago:
Come mothers and fathers / Throughout the land / And don't criticize / What you can't understand / Your sons and your daughters / Are beyond your command / Your old road is Rapidly agin' / Please get out of the new one / If you can't lend your hand / For the times they are a-changin'.
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