Swedish school student Greta Thunberg didn’t believe that her one-person strike in front of the parliament in Stockholm less than a year ago would have much of an effect on her government’s climate change policies, but her frustration with the rate of meaningful climate action by governments convinced her to protest. Last August she stayed away from school to engage people on climate action possibilities. Her reasons for not going to school were simple: why bother going to classes if her very future was being completely compromised by accelerating climate chaos? Her implacable view was that unless she did everything she could to push back this chaos a formal education was worthless for herself, her generation and future generations. Has her one-person climate action brought change? Resoundingly, but not in the way that you might think. The election last September didn’t prove to be a game-changer for climate policy in Sweden. “The politics that’s needed to prevent the climate catastrophe—it doesn’t exist today. We need to change the system, as if we were in crisis, as if there were a war going on,” Greta told The NewYorker magazine last October. Although many politicians and even Pope Francis, a climate action crusader, have met with her and expressed their solidarity and admiration for her resolve as well as her courage, what Greta’s school strike in front of parliament did was to galvanize the world’s students. Many readers will remember the strike in Sherbrooke on March 15 this year. Several thousand people came out to walk from the Université de Sherbrooke to City Hall. Multiply that one action thousands of times across the globe, and you have the makings of a true youth civil disobedience climate action movement. Last week I had the honour to speak with a class of high school science students. I wanted to hear from them how they viewed the biodiversity/climate crisis. Several students felt invigorated by the global student strikes and were planning next autumn’s civil disobedience actions. One student told me that the surge of support from her fellow students had given her a new purpose in life. Many students have felt betrayed by older people. For example, although adults speak about caring about and loving their children and grandchildren, they fly often and sometimes even compound that massive greenhouse gas pollution by then taking a cruise ship—unquestionably one of the foulest vacation choices possible. There doesn’t appear to be any carbon emissions budget that adults adhere to. Some buy electric cars to ‘offset’ their absurdly grotesque energy consumption, and thereby attempt to assuage their guilty consciences with one more purchase. Perversely, the over-fifty crowd, born to consume more than any other generation before them, through their political power, politics and life examples are the harbingers of worsening ecological chaos. The teenagers I met resent this deeply. Where are older people in the climate action movements? Besides the traditional groups such as Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, which have helped forge a Green consciousness, Extinction Rebellion
“We must use this moment as crucial leverage to push the planet in a new direction. Let us try. If we succeed, then we have risen to the greatest crisis humans have ever faced and shown that the big brain was a useful evolutionary adaptation. If we fail—well, we better to go down trying.” Climate activist Bill McKibben After experiencing a record-breaking heatwave of 45.9C in France last week, scientists have concluded that the heatwave was at least five times more likely because of climate change. The climate crisis is real, so here’s a question: in order to achieve climate justice, since most people seem reluctant to change their damaging habits, what if individually and nationally we put into law strict carbon budgets? For example, if you flew frequently, your budget to indulge would be used up more quickly. Once you had depleted your budget, if you wished to continue to travel by air, either a massive tax of, say, 1,000% would be levied on each ticket, or you’d simply be prohibited from flying. Nationally, one more pipeline carrying dirty oil would exceed Canada’s carbon budget. The world’s population will be close to 10 billion by 2050 – World Population Day is on July 11 – and the individual carbon budget would need to shrink accordingly. In the short term, before there is a mandatory budget for climate justice, should we begin to speak about the criminal liability of governments and individuals for excessive use of fossil fuels? If this sounds too radical, consider that this conversation has already started in the USA with a group of young people suing the federal government for just that reason. We each need to question our own engagement in activities that will accelerate the breakdown of our climate, irrecoverable loss of biodiversity, and the impoverishment of billions of people. The term ‘climate apartheid’ is being used to describe how the wealthiest 10% of the population is ruining the lives of the other 90%. The urgency with which this conversation needs to take place becomes clear with a NASA report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last month that a massive shrinking of sea ice is occurring in Antarctica, raising sea levels. It’s as if we delegate our ethical responsibilities to our representatives in government to fix the problems of this world after voting them into power, thereby absolving the individual of doing anything. Back in 1992, 1,670 world-renowned scientists signed the World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity, which concluded with these words: “A new ethic is required – a new attitude toward discharging our responsibility for caring for ourselves and the earth. We must recognize the earth’s limited capacity to provide for us. We must recognize its fragility. We must no longer allow it to be ravaged. This ethic must motivate a great movement, convincing reluctant leaders and reluctant governments and reluctant peoples themselves to effect the needed changes.” In 2018 over 15,000 scientists endorsed a second Warning to Humanity.