Today, September 20, 2019, literally millions of young people worldwide are participating in a strike for climate change, organized by themselves. They are fighting for the survival of our planet. They are fighting to convince all of those of us who believe in science – not to mention the obvious signs that it’s real – that mankind has indeed had a huge impact on global warming and that we have to do something – actually more than just something – about it NOW.
Yes, this means reducing, phasing out, and then actually eliminating our use of fossil fuel. Oil and gas industries can be part of the transition by continuing to improve their processes to reduce emissions, and they can be part of it by leading the way in investing in new, emission-free sources of energy as they move to new businesses. But head in the sand can’t work anymore. The dependence of industrialized societies on fossil fuels has impacted our own climate enormously, and what we have done to those living in non-industrialized countries is even worse. The lives of people living in the Arctic and on islands in the Pacific, for example, have been altered irrevocably, through no action of their own.
When I was a kid, a very long time ago, both my parents smoked. All the parents smoked. In the 50s the tobacco companies undoubtedly already knew they were selling poison, but their customers and the world around them didn’t know. They lived in ignorance … until they died of lung cancer. Their lobbies were so powerful and their product so addictive that all of society suffered with second-hand smoke. The smoking section in airplanes was in the row in front of the non-smoking section. Very effective. Restaurants were filled with smoke. Offices were filled with smoke. The donuts in Tim Horton’s tasted of cigarette smoke. It took a very, very long time for people to wake up to the truth and admit that this couldn’t continue. It took a very long time for policy makers to believe that they could actually take control of the situation. A very long time. But, believe it or not, things did finally change.
For a long time, the general public did not understand that the fossil fuel emissions from our cars, planes, ships, and power plants were actually warming our planet. We did know that it caused air pollution, and we did work on improving automobile emissions as the number of cars on the road proliferated (well, until very recently; sorry, California). But we were pretty slow at trying to switch people from cars to public transport to reduce all those emissions. We were pretty slow at a lot of things.
Now we know full well that fossil fuel emissions directly cause global warming and, sadly, have known for some time that we should be taking action. Ditto for cutting down or burning all our trees. As with cigarettes, we no longer have the excuse of ignorance. Denial is not an option. Denial helps the oil, gas and coal industries continue to do business the same way they’ve always done it. Denial helps the politicians get elected in areas where oil and gas have a large presence. Denial does provide jobs to all the people who work in those industries, but they could be employed in other industries, such as those devoted to renewable energy. That’s where enlightened and courageous policy making comes in. Continued denial on the part of policy makers can be attributed to nothing more than cowardice or self-serving greed. We cannot fail our young people, the next generation.
Earlier today I was reading from a book called The Whig Interpretation of History (H. Butterfield, 1931) – I know, not everyone’s cup of tea, but you’d be surprised – and I came across the following quote, which reminded me of the our climate change catastrophe and today’s inspirational worldwide student protest.
When the sins and errors of an age have made the world impossible to live in, the next generation, seeking to make life tolerable again, may be able to find no way save by the surrender of cherished ideals, and so may find themselves compelled to cast about for new dreams and purposes.
This observation from 1931 can be shown to be true throughout history following wars, major religious conflicts, pestilence, plague, frighteningly bad leadership, and other upheavals. It may take a full generation before things resolve and move forward, sometimes even longer, but history has shown that things do settle – at least until the next upheaval. But when the crisis is about the very survival of our planet, well, that’s uncharted territory even for historians.
We can hope that our future will be in good hands – eventually – based on the remarkable voice of today’s world youth and their incredible young leaders. I will attempt to be a worthy follower.
In closing, I will leave you with part of an opinion piece entitled “I’m not only striking for the climate” in today’s New York Times, written by one of the young leaders, Jamie Margolin. Jamie is a 17-year old from Seattle, Washington. She is one of the group of 21 young people who is suing the U.S. government over climate change inaction. She is also the founder of Zero Hour. Her words give us plenty to think about!
Many people pin the start of the climate crisis to the Industrial Revolution, when we started digging for coal, mining fossil fuels out of the ground and burning them at a large scale. It actually started long before that.
Colonization started the climate crisis. With colonization, European settlers destroyed natural habitats, hunted species to death and brought in invasive plants that indigenous and African slaves were forced to grow.
With colonialism came the idea that everything on this earth is made for our extraction and that everything is to be bought and sold. We see this in the arrival of European colonizers to the Americas, where the land, water and other natural resources were stolen and abused.
With colonialism came the idea that nothing — not air, water, trees or animals — was sacred or priceless. And this historical mind-set is the core of how we got to the climate disaster. Before the first coal was mined, even before the first factories opened, the seeds for the climate crisis had been planted, and colonialism never went away, it just evolved.
If we can agree that the root of climate change is colonialism, then the solution is to decolonize our society — from the way we get our food and energy to the way we relate to each other. Let’s divest from fossil fuels and phase out those toxic systems to build anew.