At 16, I was an exchange student. That meant traveling from Australia to another country, giving talks, acting as an ambassador, and engaging in cultural exchange. Admittedly the other country was America, so the cultural difference was hardly huge. I got to live with oil people who were really welcoming, but at 16, I was already aware of the damage fossil fuels could do. I wanted to do something about it in my professional life.
Sending 16-year-olds halfway across the world to act as youth ambassadors has been going on for decades. In the United States, you can drive a car at 16. Sometimes, through unfortunate circumstances, people of 16 and younger become family breadwinners.
So, for a cohort of conservative, mainly male commentators, advocates, and politicians to claim that 16-year-old celebrated climate striker Greta Thunberg is only a child, vulnerable to outside influence, and manipulated by shadowy forces who want to bring down civilization, is an insult, both to her and to the issue of climate change.
"The marauding swarm of vitriolic right-wing climate change deniers see Greta as a tiny, pretentious zealot who threatens the existing order. Their order. Their comforts. Their traditional 'way of life.'" — writes Andrew Mitrovica for #AJOpinion https://t.co/31vzvwBV0e
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) September 1, 2019
One conservative commentator referred to the young Swede as a “deeply disturbed messiah” and stated he had never seen “a girl so young and with so many mental disorders treated by so many adults as a guru.” Another attacked her voice as monotone and delivery as chilling and cult-like. This to discount her warnings of “hellfire,” by claiming she had been taken over by doomsday green cults.
Is what Thunberg and her fellow climate strikers want so extreme?
When I began my career some 35 years ago, the material side of society was improving, but the ecological side was already in decline from exploitation and over-consumption. The big worry back then, beyond the concern for nature itself, was reaching the point when ecological decline became large enough so that society’s material wellbeing would follow.
Ironically, social wellbeing in most developed countries is already in decline. Not yet due to ecological collapse, but because the cracks are beginning to appear. Fractured politics and poor governance are indicators, yet these signals are being smothered by the silence of inaction.
Young people know they won’t inherit a better world if it stays on its current path. How can the average young person saddled with educational debt, facing declining wages in a gig economy in a world 2°C, 3°C, or 4°C warmer going through the sixth great extinction expect to be better off than their parents?
It is reasonable to demand the adults in the room not allow this to happen. But politicians are telling the striking students to go back to school and to let them handle it. Promoting fracking, coal mining, gas, and oil, that is.
While Thunberg is the face of the movement, as she reminds us, young people have been imploring adults to step up and to make the change for years. This denigration of both messenger and message to preserve privilege, power, and patriarchy is widespread and systemic.
U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for example, is being derided as being too young and inexperienced. She is one of the most focused and direct communicators the hill has seen in years, and the Green New Deal, introduced by Ocasio-Cortez and Ed Markey, is mocked as fantasy.
Amid this verbal violence, things are taking an even more sinister turn. In the Australian state of Queensland, for instance, environmental activism is being legislated against by using laws meant to counter terrorism. Environmental and human rights group Global Witness says 164 environmental defenders were killed worldwide in 2018. The most powerful democracy (in name) in the world, the United States, is being run by a president who has called climate change a “hoax” multiple times.
The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2012
In this upside-down world, the children are adults, and the adults are children.
All this, to maintain the status quo, which is sowing the seeds of its own impending destruction.
When the economist Joseph Schumpeter used the term “creative destruction” in 1942, he thought the economy would reach equilibrium and stagnate. We now know that when economies stagnate, they collapse under their own excess. Schumpeter suggested creative destruction through innovation and change as a way out of this.
Under climate change, power structures will change whether we like it or not. The climate strikers know this and want a say in how they will change.
The choice we have is to engage in the type of creative destruction that fuels transformation or wait for the chaotic destruction that kicks in when systems fail.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.