Yesterday, I read a shocking statistic by One Poll of 2000 British adults ages 18-55, commissioned by The School of Health. It was polling their thoughts about climate change, and it found that three-quarters believe the biggest crisis facing humanity these days is climate change.
But that wasn’t the bit that shocked me. What shocked me was the revelation that one in 10 of those polled said they would give up having kids altogether.
Presumably, they’ve arrived at this choice because they believe the Earth is already overpopulated, but also, I suspect, because they believe that unless we do something about global warming and pollution, there may not be a fit world for any kids of theirs to grow up in.
Clearly, most of those who said they’d forgo having children are millennials or Generation Z – those who don’t have kids already. But that says legions about their view of their own future and whether they believe that the current people in political power will find an answer.
The 16-year-old answer
To evolve our thinking about this issue and actually do something about it, I’m not looking to the people in charge. Or even the people who want to be in charge.
I’m looking to Generation Z, young people like 16-year-old Greta Thunberg. In August 2018 Thunberg decided to get climate change placed front and center of the political agenda by posting a picture of herself on Instagram in a blue hoodie, sitting outside the Swedish parliament holding a sign announcing a strike from school on climate change.
As noted by Amelia Tait in her article about Greta in Wired magazine, that simple decision to sit there day after day with her sign launched her weekly Friday school strikes for climate change; amassed more than 1.5 million followers on social media; resulted in invitations to address the UN summit and Davos; and led to the March 2019 Extinction Rebellion protests, involving some 2000 protests and over a million students in 125 countries.
Two days after the protests, Greta herself was invited to address Parliament. Prime Minister Theresa May had chided the climate change protesters in central London as wasting the time and resources of teachers and the police, and urged them to get back to class.
Greta had a ready answer. “I assure you we will go back to school the moment you start listening to science and give us a future. Is that really too much to ask?”
Greta isn’t alone. There are the Parkland, Florida students, who survived the mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High school and led 1.2 million protests for gun control on Washington, with countless other protests in other cities around America.
And Kahkashan Basu, an 18 year old from Dubai (now living in Canada) who has founded the Green Hope Foundation, sits on the World Future Council and in the past helped to form the UN Environment Program.
And Autumn Peltier, then all of 12 years old, who chastised Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for allowing expansion of oil pipelines through forest habitats and key waterways. “I am very unhappy with the choices you’ve made,” she told him.
As Tait noted, this youthful activism is having an impact. After a similar strike in Belgium last February, an environment minister was forced to resign after claiming the strike was a sham, set up by adults.
Take stock, politicos
If I were a politician in one of the major political parties, I’d be worried, particularly in the US, where www.opensecrets.org, which reports on where politicos get their campaign funding, shows that the majority of senators and congresspeople accept donations from Big Pharma and the gas, oil and chemical industries.
When those most responsible for polluting the planet are also largely responsible for getting you elected, you’re not likely to curb those industries.
But these politicians shouldn’t be worried about the paymasters. The people they need to be worried about are this generation millennials and Gen Zs, a far larger demographic than the baby boomers, particularly those on the brink of voting age.
According to a recent article in the New York times, only 12 percent of young people identify as conservative. Among Democrats, in an early Iowa poll, just 17 per cent of those under 35 supported centrist Joe Biden. The overwhelming majority opted for the far more progressive Bernie Sanders.
These activists do not want to be patronized by adults as the ‘change-makers of the future’; there isn’t enough time left, they say, to wait until they grow up. As Jamie Margolin, Greta’s counterpart in the US noted, “We’re just kids telling you to stop messing up.”
The point is, the old guys with their old tired ways of placating industry need to radically change or move aside. The new kids are in town and, boy, do they mean business.