I did not find the youth at Friday’s climate strikes inspiring.
On the morning of the global climate strikes, I boarded the train from my village of Hastings-on-Hudson to New York City. With me were dozens of local teenagers who were going to the protest downtown. They came with signs of cardboard and markered letters that said “No Planet B” or “Stop Climate Change.” One boy had tattooed the word “Green” on his cheek. They were laughing, joking with each other, moving from seat to seat with their cameras and playful banter.
I should have been inspired, seeing these tens of young people, whom I assume, were attending a march for the first time. I knew that thousands of other youth were going out on the street across the world that day to raise their voices of the urgency of the climate crisis.
I should have been inspired.
Instead, I found myself feeling remorse, shame, and deep sadness.
As I stared at them, I was reminded of being a teenager myself, and the fun I had with my friends. Going to concerts or a movie, the beach. We too were a bit loud with our laughter, somewhat oblivious to those around us.
But my outings with friends over 25 years ago were not to save my future.
Seeing them my heart sank. “They should not be here.” I thought. “They should not have to skip school to save their lives.”
As a parent we bring children in the world with the promise to care for them. We stress over which school to send them. We spend hours researching the best piano lessons or dance classes. We look over their shoulders when they do their homework. We want them to be best prepared for their future.
Yet here they are on the streets not sure if there will even be a future for them. What are we doing to ensure that there will even be a viable future for them to live in, to play the piano, to dance or dream?
As I looked at these chattering teenagers, I realized that we have failed these kids, our kids. They should not have to miss class to convince us adults to make the changes we should have made decades ago. They should be in school experimenting with new ideas, imagining endless possibilities in a world that is safe and protected.
In kindergarten last year, my 6 year old gave a stunning speech on trees for her school’s civics day. As she stood on a plastic chair, she reached for the microphone with her words, “Trees are important. Trees give us shade. Animals live in trees. We need trees.” Some people who saw a video of her speech told me that she could be the next Greta.
I don’t want my daughter to be the next Greta. I want my daughter to be an artist or a cook, or a ballet dancer. Or whatever it is she wants to be. I don’t want her thoughts to be consumed by whether or not there will be a future.
My goal is for my daughter to not have to be a Greta.
I have to ask myself, can I put as much time into researching the best after school programs into researching how to make sure there is a future for her to live in?
We can all start small. Take a few minutes to learn more about climate crisis. Experiment with a plant-based meal once a week. Calculate our carbon footprint and identify key areas to reduce our impact. Join a local group like Mothers out Front or the one I work for, the Global Catholic Climate Movement.
But probably one of the most important things to start doing is to begin talking about the climate crisis with others. This is in fact what climate scientist Katherine Heyhoe says we must do: talk about it. Unless we bring it out in the open and allow it to affect our day to day lives, we won’t be able to make the necessary changes to protect our kids’ future.
So many of us don’t discuss it because it feels awkward. Or it feels too big or overwhelming. Yet I know we can do this. I’ve seen myself and other parents do some pretty awkward things when our child’s future is at stake. If we can talk to other parents about where to find the best swim camp, we have to find a way to talk about something that will have an even more radical impact on their future lives. For the love of our kids, we have to start.
The only way out of this crisis is if we come together, regardless of whether we think we have any answers or we still aren’t sure what we want to do. Let’s talk. Let’s gather. And let’s take action, like our kids did last Friday. This way, hopefully in the future, they won’t need to skip school or interrupt what should be a childhood unoccupied with extinction.