My mind is still spinning after taking part in the International Climate Strike, the brainchild of Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old girl from Sweden whose special gift is her ability to simply but so succinctly articulate the urgency of climate change. Her passion was born from a frustration with world leaders ignoring scientific data that shows how our dependence on fossil fuels is killing us. It’s only a matter of time, and according to Greta, that time is running out. An estimated four million people around the globe left classrooms and workplaces to amplify Greta’s message. After decades of policy-makers kicking the can down the road, or worse yet, outrightly denying that rising atmospheric and oceanic temperatures are threatening our existence, children who have been listening are now speaking out. With our planet warming at a dangerously alarming rate, the children of the world are taking the lead to stave off disaster!
Inspired by Thunberg’s “call to action” a handful of local folks, in a spontaneous move just days before Sept. 20, began circulating via print and social media an invitation for any and all of us who care to meet in front of the St. Louis County Courthouse across the street from the Roosevelt Elementary and Virginia High Schools. And sure enough, Virginia, Minn., became one of the 2,500-plus locations around the world to host a “Climate Strike” event. With their handmade signs, kindred spirits from dozens of towns across the Iron Range showed up with a message, “The time to mobilize is now!”
Despite our having warning signals from climatologists for over half a century, we’ve continued to defend our economic system, one built on a model of continuous “growth” and determined to keep manufacturing, and competitively marketing, “new and improved” products to keep stoking that American “must-have” mentality. Instead of acknowledging the danger of never-ending consumption, corporate and economic interests have amped up expansion of free-market economies worldwide. The result of increased global consumption has, not surprisingly, led to increased waste and pollution. Our planet is a “closed system”. The effects of what we make and do stay with us forever. Our industrial activities are now, literally, pressing Planet Earth’s limits to sustain life as we know it.
Generation Z, defined by the Pew Research Institute as the cohort of young people 22 years and younger, are very likely the most informed generation in history. Raised with the internet and other advanced technologies, the world’s youth are vividly aware of the issue of climate change and now refer to it as a “climate crisis”. Based on the bulk of scientific evidence, they’re spot on! The words on one marcher’s placard couldn’t state their concern more clearly, “You will die from old age. I will die from climate change.” It’s been predicted that we could begin seeing the worst effects of climate change by 2030, a mere eleven years away. By 2030, current high schoolers will not yet have reached the age of thirty! We, the older generations, must be willing to acknowledge the level of fear and anxiety they experience as they anticipate the array of potentially devastating scenarios they may be facing. Greta Thunberg, speaking passionately in front of the United Nations, called out the world’s leaders for failing to take meaningful action on the crisis, asserting that they have stolen her childhood and are stealing her future.
After trying to imagine all the ways the world will have changed in just one short decade, I am pulled back to the here and now. Changes are already occurring in my own backyard. My neighbors commiserate often about how “things just aren’t like they used to be” — whether it’s with the weather, in the garden, with birds and other wild creatures, plant life, or seasonal conditions. I’m convinced. It’s time to get serious about our climate crisis.
Sometimes I feel overwhelmed, threatening the hope that keeps me believing a solution actually exists. Loss of hope can lead to cynicism and despair, and I know that can strip me of my desire to stay engaged and keep doing what I can to be part of the solution. But I also know that despair and cynicism are reserved for a privileged few who either believe they’ll be long gone before things “really hit the fan” so it won’t be their problem, or those who think that some miraculous development will come along in time to save us. Like plans for alternative outposts on Mars. Or nuclear devices that will detonate inside hurricanes to disperse them or shift weather patterns altogether. Or giant climate-controlled bubbles where a few fortunate survivors of environmental collapse will hunker down for unknown lengths of time. These are just some of the farfetched ideas floating out there. My response, “Ya sure!” I like this marcher’s sign better, “There is no Planet B!” In short, I’m “all in” with Greta and the young people around the world. Especially when I look around me and grasp what’s at stake for all of us.
I love autumn, with our forests ablaze with color! We’re surrounded by clean water, abundant with life. We still enjoy cerulean skies by day and star-studded skies by night. That’s because our air is still, relatively-speaking, smog-free. So, at a time when most of us can agree that there are few places that can compare in beauty and quality of life, why wouldn’t we work our damnedest to save what we’ve got?
Millions of the world’s youth are marching to save this magnificent planet. We must never forget that their future depends on it. They’re demanding from us a fiercer commitment to end our wasteful habits and unite to pressure political leaders to defend or improve upon environmental and energy policies designed to reverse the disastrous course we’re on. Our youth are begging for our attention. If we really love them, we’ll listen and take action in any way we can!