Thistlethwaite: For our youth, strike for the climate
Young people from all over the world are leading a climate strike on Friday and adults, myself included, need to get with the program and support them in massive numbers.
The future life of the planet is at stake. Is there any more important issue today?
This is likely to be one of the largest protests in history. And frankly, either we make history now, or the planet is history. Catastrophic climate change is upon us and accelerating more rapidly than ever before.
Catastrophic climate change, if allowed to continue at these accelerating rates, is an existential threat to life on the planet. There are many good books on this issue, but one that stands out to me for its stark clarity is “Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet” by Mark Lynas. Just don’t read it late at night or you won’t sleep.
So let’s get serious. Climate change denial is the real hoax. Don’t even bother writing me letters about that. Climate change denial is designed to pacify enough people so they will not vote to protect their own climate. But soon, and very soon, it will be too late. Vote now for political candidates who have solid plans to protect your planet or we’re all toast (that’s not a metaphor).
Young people know catastrophic climate change is upon us and it is an existential threat to their future. They are becoming increasingly vocal and strategic in their demands that government and business leaders quit stalling on making the kinds of changes that can slow down and eventually halt the processes that are causing our seas to rise, our glaciers to melt, our hurricanes to increase in devastating velocity, our forests to burn and our winters to produce less and less snow.
If we don’t act, eventually we’ll be skiing on mud here in the Colorado mountains.
The U.S. Youth Climate Strike is made up of eight youth-led groups, and they are demanding changes in advance of the United Nations Climate Action Summit on September 23. That is a meeting that is to take place ahead of the U.N. General Assembly where countries will hopefully pledge to increase their efforts to curb greenhouse gases under the 2015 Paris climate agreement.
Don’t bother to look to the United States to lead in that effort. This administration, as my teenage grandson would say, is “totally out of it” when it comes to taking sane action to prevent climate catastrophe. Thank heavens, Americans in their local and state actions are not “out of it.” If you want to see U.S. leadership on climate, that’s where you need to put your efforts.
Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, has become a visible symbol of this youth rebellion against inaction on climate change. She, along with other youth activists, will lead the New York strike that is expected to bring in thousands of people. Large strikes are also scheduled to happen in Washington D.C., Boston, Seattle, Minneapolis, Miami, Los Angeles, and Denver.
There will be a demonstration at Foley Square in New York City on Friday, followed by a rally and march to Battery Park. The 1.1 million students in the New York City public schools have been excused from school if they wish to participate.
Don’t try to get your preseason ski clothes this Friday at Burton or Patagonia, either. Patagonia and Burton have agreed to close their stores on Friday, along with other businesses. At least 900 Amazon employees at the Seattle headquarters have said they will walk out too.
If you have read this far in my opinion piece, you may be in favor of reining in the worst of the causes of catastrophic climate change, but wonder if even massive strikes can make a difference at this point.
Yes, massive strikes can make a huge difference. I know that from my own experience.
In May of 1970, widespread antiwar strikes became one of the largest coordinated protests in American history in response to Nixon announcing he had secretly widened the Vietnam war into Cambodia.
I helped organize the strike at my own college and we shut the school down. Many did the same at their colleges, universities and even some high schools participated. This widespread strike ultimately became a turning point in finally ending the war in Vietnam.
What I learned as a young person from that strike, and what I see these young people doing today, is just saying, “No! Stop this now.” You can say “No” with a massive strike and have it make serious change.
Vietnam was a devastating war. Several high school friends were killed. Families were shattered by the losses. So many died or were wounded in body, mind and spirit.
But even Vietnam pales in its devastation to the war on the planet we are now experiencing.
The youth of the world are saying, “No! Stop this now.”
We’d better listen. They are right.
Help them, won’t you? They, and the whole planet, deserve to have a future.
Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is President and Professor Emerita of Chicago Theological Seminary. She and her husband now make their home in the Vail Valley.