Our children are walking out of school today, saying we have failed them.
In a speech today, Oxfam’s Winnie Byanyima evoked the words of Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who yesterday was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and today is leading another strike by school children around the world, protesting against climate change and our pitiful weakness to resolve it.
Winnie implored the UN to show the same clarity of purpose and energy exemplified by the 16-year-old Swede.
Yes, we abhor kids being out of school. But climate change means that one day many may not even have a school to attend. Anyone whose very existence is under threat should at least have the right to speak up about it. The right to protest, to mobilize and organize, to raise one’s voice and have it heard, is no less a right that it should be denied.
To our children, climate change is not an abstract idea but a frightening, threatening reality. Our children are seeing their leaders failing to tame our economy’s addiction to coal, oil and gas, driving our planet toward and over 1.5 degrees warming. We place economic growth on a pedestal and disregard its harmful consequences on people. So what if the factory that employs people in the village also emits pollution that creates health hazards and climate change? Or if the much-hyped oil plant also taints people’s drinking water and spews out greenhouse gases?
Nearly half of the world’s population lives on under $5.50 a day, the World Bank’s new poverty line for extreme poverty in upper and middle income countries. If we continue to tinker around the edges of our current system, we will need a global economy 175 times bigger for everyone to achieve life above the extreme poverty line. This would destroy our planet – so it is self-evident that the structure of our economic model must change.
We are the proverbial ostriches with our heads in the sand, refusing to acknowledge that our system of pursuing development has not only given rise to huge inequality between the 1% super-rich and the rest – but it’s also been destroying our planet. We need to transform our economic system so that it redistributes income and wealth more fairly, and is powered in a greener, cleaner, more sustainable way. This economic transformation is entirely achievable and within our hands; we need a “New Green Deal” that both redistributes wealth and allows us a more sure and sustainable way to steward our planet.
We will be judged both by the environmental legacy we leave our children and how much we have prepared them to speak truth to power and take on the emerging challenges of a complex world.