The following is a guest post from Monica Lewis of St. James Episcopal Church in Richmond. It supplements our earlier post Climate Rally, Richmond Virginia.
On Friday, September 20, young people around the world participated in the Climate Strike called for by Greta Thunberg, the 16 year old Swedish climate activist who has spoken so movingly on our need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If you are not yet familiar with her, ask around. Chances are, people you know and love have seen photos of her, with her plain, simple braids, online. They will know that this unassuming, mildly autistic girl has credibility and power. She has inspired many European youths to spend Fridays at governmental buildings with signs and posters that ask for “System Change Not Climate Change” and “The Planet Over Profits.” When some have chastised the teens for skipping school, Greta has asked, “why study for a future which may not exist?”
September 20 was the day when many in Richmond and around the world – adults and youth – stand up for climate instead of attending school and work as usual. It kicked off a week of events coordinated to coincide with the UN Climate Summit in New York City, where Greta will be, following her just-completed zero carbon sailboat trip across the Atlantic.
Teachers, school administrators, religious leaders, and employers,– in short, everyone — honored the courage of Greta and her fellow activists, to stood with them and acknowledged the challenge before us. Sure, it is possible to look the other away and be resistant, as adults often are, of youth’s “disruptive behavior.” But, it would be better to carve a way forward in this unprecedented time of rapid, extreme change. We should recognize that an important aspect of teen maturation is learning to speak up and participate in community. After all, we want teens to be able to carry on after they take our places. They have to start participating in the political process and learning the ropes. So, let’s listen to their concerns; they are responding to the scientists’ warnings about the Earth’s limits. Can we assure them that we want a safe future, too, and that we are working towards it by implementing changes? Solving global warming is what is really important here – not how many unexcused absences some kids have – so let’s shine light on the innovations that will help all of us. Let’s make improvements to our energy infrastructures that save money and resources. Let’s teach our children and learn from them as well. Let’s lift each other up.
It is worth noting that Greta and her fellow activists have turned to striking because they feel that climate, as an issue, has not been addressed by society’s institutions. An official statement on the crisis could go a long way in re-establishing trust between generations and keeping morale high.
There are so many ways adults and young people could participate in Climate Week together. How about a “teach in” to explain how pollution traps heat in the atmosphere? Hang an art show that conveys this information in creative, visual ways. Host a guest speaker to present on technology that shows promise in reducing carbon emissions, such as solar panels, wind turbines, and EVs. Or gather a group together to write letters to our governmental officials. Put academic learning into use engaging in real-world problem solving. Provide the addresses, envelopes, and stamps so that those letters really get mailed! Or go digital with tweets, selfies, and hashtags such as #OurClimateStory, #GrassrootsClimate, and #PriceOnPollution. The time you spend together need not be a matter of everyone in complete agreement, but rather about conversation and a willingness to listen.
Are we going to choose to stand with students on Sept. 20 and join them in acknowledging the urgency of the environmental crisis? Or are we going to ask them to sit down, be quiet, and let us handle things, which, up until now, has been to “mishandle” things? Stand with our youth, choose the health of our planet, and choose the future. As Greta has said, “Act as if your house is on fire. Because it is.”