Those who have already lived the best part of their lives are going to take ours away from us. We can’t let them.
Last month, 2000 young people in Bristol went on strike - children walked out of their schools, often alongside parents who supported their cause: saving the planet. These protests have made the news, caused our Prime Minister to proclaim them a “waste of teaching time,” and spurred right-wing commentators to complain, “why don’t they strike at the weekend?” But this isn’t enough; we are living in an era of climate crisis, and a single day of action barely begins to make up for the countless days of inaction on the part of our society, our governments, the corporations and countries responsible for large majorities of pollution and ecosystem destruction.
There is a sense that more and more people are paying attention to eco-movements, particularly young people. A common narrative is that our generation is more engaged with the issue than those older than us, and certainly, there are loud voices amongst us - not least, the inspirational Greta Thunberg, who last year at 15 laid the foundations for climate strikes by sitting outside Swedish parliament every day, demanding action on climate change and speaking at the UN. There’s something bittersweet about seeing kids like this take on huge organisations with valour and integrity; yes, they are inspirational, and yes, they’re tackling injustice and oh isn’t it so endearing? But such are the state that we, collectively, have placed our own species in, that children and teenagers have to take a stand. It’s shameful on the part of the generations that have come before us that we have slipped into this - avoidable - existential threat.
Personally, learning about global warming as a child and again when I was mentally fortified enough to deal with it as a young adult, I was filled with rage - still am, really, typing and deleting four letter words as I write this article. I have also utilised mental coping strategies, which I am certain I’m not alone in; living wilfully in the here-and-now, repressing my panic and fear, making a joke out of the situation. Friends around me demonstrate the same defence mechanisms. It’s not easy to break out of them, hard-wired as they are in our psychological evolution - if humans were constantly worrying about every potential threat to our existence, we’d have struggled to flourish as we have. The severe impact that climate collapse is already having on our mental health is also noteworthy; “eco-anxiety”, “pre-traumatic stress disorder” and “climate trauma” are a sample of the crop of new jargon being churned out by researchers to address this issue. Our protective mechanisms are very, very good at defending against threats to our mental wellbeing like this. However, overcoming denial and fear is necessary if we are to challenge the global silence on climate change.
The concept of active hope, posited by Joanna Macy (in her book of the same name) refers to desire - for how we want our future to look. It is less “dream it and it shall be so,” more “picture what you want, and now go do something about it.” Really, we’re taught to behave this way throughout education when thinking about our careers - or by personal trainers in the gym - but the strategy can and should be employed in battling climate change. Active hope doesn’t mean relentless optimism. Many activists are certainly not optimistic that what they want can be achieved, but only through action can we know for sure.
This practice is why so many are taking part in climate protests worldwide. To some extent, going vegan or low-waste is an act of active hope in the face of global warming. For all young people fearful of what we are doing to our own futures, taking the first step into action is scary because it means derailing all of our cleverly-built cognitive defences. This, of course, is what is needed, and that’s why taking part in the next climate strike is so important. Youth Strike 4 Climate, a global movement, for young people to walk out of schools and universities to make their voices heard against what is an environmental and social injustice have set the next strike date for March 15th. In Bristol, we are lucky to be part of a community heavily involved in eco-friendly movements, with a council who were the first in the country to declare a climate emergency. For the benefit of, well, our entire lives, and in aid of dismantling the passive denial, which exists within most of us, we should all take part in the next Strike.
For more information about the strike, visit the Event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/585299771964211/
To learn more about YouthStrike4Climate: https://ukscn.org/