Global Youth Climate Strike: Not Nearly Enough—and Yet
David R. Weiss – September 23, 2019
The Gospel in Transition #41 – Subscribe at www.davidrweiss.com
I attended the Minnesota Strikes Back rally on Friday, our little part in the Global Youth Climate Strike that encircled the planet that day. I was encouraged to see so many youth at the gathering—and so many parents and grandparents, too. There is untold strength in becoming a multigenerational movement. It’s important for youth to realize they aren’t alone in their quest for a livable future. And equally important for adults of all ages to realize the swell of energy—anguish, anger, and grit—rising in youth today.
We were 5000-plus at the State Capitol and among millions across the globe—literally: in over 150 countries and on all continents, including Antarctica, where folks at a research station bundled up and went outside to join in the strikes. Frankly, our numbers in the Twin Cities were paltry. This is, after all, our lives we’re talking about. We will need so many more people to show up—and in ways much more committed than an afternoon strike if we intend to preserve some recognizable semblance of a future for our children and grandchildren and beyond. Strikes—even with millions in the streets—will not be nearly enough. And yet when I see people dismiss the strikes as so much silliness I’m angry. Silliness my ass.
The Guardian reported yesterday, per a United in Science report released in conjunction with the UN Climate Summit going on today, that climate change is outpacing past predictions and we’ll need to at least triple our current efforts on cutting emissions to even have a chance at holding global heating to 2oC; and quintuple them to actually hit the (much!) safer target of 1.5oC. If we merely continue slowing emissions at the pace we’ve managed to achieve since the 2015 Paris Agreement, we’ll reach a temperature rise of 2.9-3.4oC by the end of this century. That’s the path we’re on today. I have grandchildren who will live to see 2100. So how do I say this politely? THERE IS NO WAY TO SAY THIS POLITELY: If we hit 3oC in global heating, we’ll have a planet that will make Mad Max look like a Disney amusement ride.
Meanwhile President Trump planned to skip the UN Climate Summit, instead scheduling himself at a meeting on religious freedom—which, despite real concerns over religious persecution in some places, in its most common and current toxic expression, is freedom to assert bigotry and deny basic human rights to women, migrants, and others as an expression of religious conviction. I note this not as an editorial snipe at Trump but because the rise in religiously-based xenophobia, other-ing, and simple hatred is intrinsically bound up with indifference to the coming climate catastrophe. They’re flip sides of the same damn coin.
Minimally, school strikes can raise awareness. They can light a fire in the imagination of youth—and the rest of us. Clearly not everyone. But maybe enough of us. Perhaps they already have. It was only in May 2018 that 15 year-old Greta Thunberg—entirely unknown at the time—won an essay contest on climate change sponsored by a Swedish newspaper. Three months later, in August 2018, propelled by her own alarm and conviction, she began her solitary Friday school strikes outside the Parliament Building in Sweden. And thirteen months later the entire world (well, close to four million of us) joined her. As for Greta herself, if you heard any of her remarks to the UN Summit today (9/23/2019), you heard the voice of a child prophet. (And she is neither the first,  nor the only one. Every speaker except one at the Twin Cities Climate Rally was twenty years old or younger—most were in their teens. All were eloquent, passionate, and inspiring.)
Is one Global Youth Climate Strike—or even a dozen—enough? Not nearly. But it reminds us that ordinary citizens—both youth and adults—are the sleeping giant in this picture. Like a test of the emergency broadcast system, running a global climate strike and turning out four million shows that this much is possible. And this much is already pretty extraordinary.
We’ll need to move to general strikes—entire cities being shutdown by work stoppages carried out by rank and file citizens across all fields. And to nonviolent civil disobedience on a scale never before seen—because we are facing a threat on a scale never before seen. Hard to imagine? Yeah, but so is a planet so over-heated as to become a threat to human life. And as that threat becomes more imaginable—if science education doesn’t see to that, then physics, chemistry, and biology operating in the real world will—the anticipatory anguish-anger that drove millions into the streets on Friday will drive them (and yet more!) to press further. General strikes and nonviolent resistance will become civic virtues of the highest degree.
Will even that be enough to turn the tide? Who can say? But I am willing to lend my feet, my body, and my words to this cause, believing it is yet possible to cut through to the hearts of enough politicians and other leaders to rouse them to deeds that are more than just window-dressing for an apocalypse.
Still, Greta’s concluding words in addressing the UN Climate Summit today are prescient: “You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us I say we will never forgive you. We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.”
So, to those who prefer to deride the striking youth from the sidelines, I have a suggestion. Join them—or buy plywood for your windows. If strikes and other nonviolent resistance do not succeed, I guarantee you, rocks and worse will be next. And they will be justified. Many of our youth now recognize—as too many of us do not yet—that they are literally fighting for their lives against forces that are willing to use them as tragic extras in a neoliberal economic snuff film.
No doubt this is complicated stuff. Not so much the climate science, which is alarmingly clear. But the politics and culture, the superficial motives and deeper addictions, the technology and the ethics, and the need to imagine both unimaginable horror … and, just as much so, unimaginable hope. We will need more than just strikes and nonviolent resistance—but we will surely not prevail with less than them.
PS: I’ve set up a Patreon site to help fund my work in this area. I hope you’ll invest in my thinking and writing. You can learn more about how to support me here: www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith
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The Gospel in Transition by David R. Weiss is a year of reflections on facing our climate crisis, finding hope, and the alchemy of Christian community. My weekly essays consider climate change, Transition, and faith—using biblical images, liturgical seasons, science, and theology, as conversation partners. Writing in a voice a bit too restless to call “devotional,” I aim to be insightfully evocative and usefully provocative. I’d be delighted to have you join me on this journey. In fact, I hope you’ll subscribe (go to the top right sidebar!) Thanks for reading and see you next week! Contact me at: drw59mn(at)gmail.com.