May's response to striking schoolchildren exemplifies the point they are making

“Two years bitching about Brexit while our planet is dying!!”

This is just one of many slogans held aloft in Westminster on Friday the 15thof February as thousands of children skipped school to implore the government to take climate change more seriously. The message is quite simple, climate change is a threat to our very existence, you are not doing enough to stop it.

Peaceful protests took place both across the country and the wider world, including students from all stages in the education system. It is a movement sparked by a young Swedish girl called Greta Thunberg, who sat outside the Swedish parliament every Friday petitioning for the reduction of carbon emissions in the run up to the Swedish general election. Spurred by the information released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that we have just 12 years left to drastically cut climate emissions. Her actions and solemn-faced words have been the inspiration for thousands to do similar.

In response to the countrywide demonstrations, Theresa May’s official spokesperson released the following statement:

“Everybody wants young people to be engaged in the issues that affect them most so that we can build a brighter future for all of us. But it is important to emphasise that disruption increases teacher’s workloads and wastes lesson time that teachers have carefully prepared for. That time is crucial for young people precisely so that they can develop into the top scientists, engineers and advocates that we need to help tackle this problem.”

This statement from Number 10 is a perfect example of kicking the can down the road; let the next generation study so they can sort it out in the future. It shows that teaching time is valued more highly than long term climate stability, despite many teachers supporting the action. It is short-sighted and screams of wilful ignorance. In Australia temperatures recently hit a blistering 48ºC, I wonder how easy it was for students to learn in those conditions.

Young people were bemoaned after the Brexit referendum, with the 36% turnout rate for 18-24 year olds indicating a lack of political engagement. How can young people be expected to engage politically when they unite to raise an issue of global importance and they are dismissed to get back to their classrooms? Theresa May is missing a trick here, and risks disengaging yet another generation of voters.

When Greta Thunberg started her protest outside the Swedish parliament, she was 15. In 12 years she will be 27 - likely in the early stages of whatever career she pursues. Most people her age will not be in positions of power for 10-20 years after the 12 year cut-off. Relying on those Greta Thunberg’s age is not an option in the timeframe available.

I don’t completely agree with all of Greta’s message however. At her TEDx talk in Stockholm she said that governments are doing nothing, which I don’t believe to be true. There have been plenty of talks in recent years on cutting carbon emissions, and investment in green technologies has gradually started coming to the fore. But progress has been slow, and words need to be translated into actions, fast. Greta also claimed that the issues are not being discussed in the media, which I also believe not to be true. But the issues are not taking centre stage as they should, often overshadowed by political bickering and less consequential bureaucracy. We all need our politicians to take this more seriously now, individual actions can only bridge so much of the gap.

Somehow there still remains an argument over the possibility of climate change. I for one, don’t care if all the climate scientists are wrong. Clean water, clean air, sustainable energy, lack of pollution, thriving biodiversity, healthy forests, healthy oceans and a multitude of other aspects to this web are things we should be striving for as a society irrespective of climate change. A cartoon by the cartoonist Joel Pett sums it up for me perfectly – “what if it’s a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing?” – we have nothing to lose from working towards a greener, healthier world.

In a current global climate marred by mass extinctions, environmental destruction, increasingly dramatic weather events, and world leaders intent on ignoring the issues at hand, it would be heartening to see the UK lead by example. I hope that the student strikers continue to bang their drums. Many of them cannot make their voices heard at the polling station yet, this is the only way they can get their message across. Perhaps more of us should go out and bang the drum with them, until their message is taken less lightly.

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