Backing climate strikes

Green councillor Mary Campbell today secured a commitment from City of Edinburgh Council to respect and engage positively with school students taking part in climate strikes. She explains why.

Yesterday I read a newspaper article which highlighted the changes the planet would be facing in 2080 if climate changing emissions were not reduced. Southern Europe would be in a permanent extreme drought, as would much of the Middle East, the densely populated parts of Australia, Africa, and South America; and the breadbasket regions of China. It said that none of these places, which today supply much of the world’s food, will be reliable sources for any food at all.

There are articles like this every day about sea levels rising, species extension, and extreme weather events. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a teenager and read that by the time you will be 70 there won’t be enough food for the world, because of the actions of the adults today.

I was a school pupil who was active on environmental issues. I did litter picks, fundraising, recycling, energy saving campaigns, a school allotment, and helped get Portobello High School its first eco school award. However, in the 16 years since I have left high school, the man made changes to our planet have only been getting worse.

So I can see why students of today feel that individual action is not enough, and they need to take stronger, collective action to try and get adults to take notice. Children can’t vote, so I can see that they are looking for any way to get adults to take action that will leave them a liveable planet for themselves and their children. While this may seem daunting, or even impossible, big change always requires a leap of faith, which is something these children have already shown, trusting in adults to listen to their voices.

The American environmentalist Paul Hawken captured this necessary sense of ambition when he addressed a group of students 10 years ago. He said:

Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course. The world would create new religions overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead, the stars come out every night and we watch television.

“This extraordinary time when we are globally aware of each other and the multiple dangers that threaten civilization has never happened, not in a thousand years, not in ten thousand years. Each of us is as complex and beautiful as all the stars in the universe. We have done great things and we have gone way off course in terms of honoring creation. You are graduating to the most amazing, stupefying challenge ever bequested to any generation. The generations before you failed. They didn’t stay up all night. They got distracted and lost sight of the fact that life is a miracle every moment of your existence. Nature beckons you to be on her side. You couldn’t ask for a better boss.

“The most unrealistic person in the world is the cynic, not the dreamer. Hope only makes sense when it doesn’t make sense to be hopeful. This is your century. Take it and run as if your life depends on it”.

And so today at Education Committee we passed my motion to support the children and young people taking part in the climate strike. Climate breakdown is the defining issue of our age, and we need to work with our young people to meet the challenge. One of the four foundations of the Curriculum for Excellence is to have young people who are responsible citizens. This is citizenship. This is responsibility.