Trust the Children

The climate is in crisis. The next generation is raising public awareness, demanding political action, seeking legal recourse for offenders, and developing inventive responses to the problems we face. Climate change is becoming part of the larger conversation around the world, entering into educational systems and curriculum, and calling young people to activism and demand for change around the globe.

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Recently, I saw a comment on a social media page that asked when “the next generation” was going to step up and take responsibility for solutions to the world climate crisis. The question omitted the fact that the present generation had created the problem, and was prepared to leave the solution as a legacy to the next. Such a deal!

What is clear in the exponential evidence of the crisis — the wildfires, deforested watersheds, poisoned waterways, dead ocean zones, and so much more — affects all of us now and that segmented responsibility is not the answer. What is certain is that all generations must engage, everywhere and at every level of society. Governments must mobilize in response to the reality of cause and effect; communities, be they large or small, coastwise or inland, must organize to protect and plan for what is already upon them; individuals of all ages must come together to mitigate the obvious and invent the structures and behaviors that will enable this requisite change and strategy for survival.

We are all frustrated by climate angst, the pervasive reveal of the consequence of what we have done to land and sea. When climate change is denied, I always wonder — what is the underlying explanation? Vested interest? Fear of change? Indifference to destructive impact on others elsewhere even if that same destruction lurks just around their corner? It is at once explicable and illogical, a contradiction that enables the status quo and ignores the problem.

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The commentator, of course, was uninformed. There are many examples worldwide where the next generation is committed and successful in raising awareness, demanding political action, and fomenting innovation and response. Our Children’s Trust, an organization in Oregon in the United States, is challenging government for it’s failure to adhere to a legal obligation to protect Nature that is a fundamental constitutional principle. When Our Children’s Trust began, filing a first case in a local court, all the plaintiffs were under 18 years of age, and they have persevered though the complex levels of the American justice system, winning decisions and appeals along the way to the point where now their argument awaits argument before the US Supreme Court.

Climate change is also becoming part of educational systems around the world: Italy now requires Climate Studies as part of its national curriculum; Ocean Literacy standards, the inter-relation of the ocean to all disciplines, science and humanities, is being introduced in Europe and the United States, as an educational construct for progressive teaching and learning. From Scandinavia to Asia, the reality of climate change and the search for solutions is a phenomenon that can be measured in lesson plans, field trips, research projects, choices for higher education and careers, and even student walk-outs and strikes, condoned by teachers, to participate in protests in support of climate treaties and obligations and goals for sustainable development worldwide. If you march in the parades and attend the rallies, you will see how many of the participants are young adults and children fully committed to the agenda for change.

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And, of course, there is the fascinating Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish student who stood before her national parliament to advocate for climate policy and launched, so astonishingly, an international coalition of young and old, and articulated a persistent, simple, and purposeful message that has galvanized the world through her personality, her clarity, and her success as an advocate in the global press, in myriad public events and conferences, and before the United Nations. Sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg, a young citizen of the world, was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Peace. She is a pure distillation of the next generation: wise, determined, and empowered. Call Greta and her young allies children at your peril. They are as mature as anyone who will study a problem, invent a solution, and commit to whatever it takes to build a better future for everyone.

To come to New York to address the United Nations, Greta chose to make a 3500-mile, 15-day Atlantic crossing aboard a 60-foot sailboat. Instead of a corporate logo, “Listen to the Science” was the message on the sail. She described her ocean passage: “…it was just amazing to be in this wilderness…with so many dolphins and other wildlife. And if it was calm, then during the nights you could see the stars…”

In her UN General Assembly address, she said: “So we have not come here to beg the world leaders to care for our future. They have ignored us in the past, and they will ignore us again. We have come here to let them know that change is coming, whether they like it or not. The people will rise to the challenge. And since our leaders are behaving like children, we will have to take the responsibility they should have taken long ago.”

Who do we trust? Let’s trust the children.

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PETER NEILL is founder and director of the World Ocean Observatory and is author of The Once and Future Ocean: Notes Toward a New Hydraulic Society. He is also the host of World Ocean Radio upon which this blog is inspired.

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