Children, I am so sorry to have to tell you this, but there is no other way.
It is the job of parents to protect their children from the horrible truths of the world – the perennial violence, the abuse, the corruption – until they are old enough to come to terms with it. But there comes a time when hiding a dark truth is more dangerous than sustaining a white lie.
We have failed you.
We have ignored the wisdom of our scientists, the warnings of our activists, the greed of our corporations and the cowardice of our politicians. We have cosied up with our screens to drown out the howling outside our windows: the howling of the wind that is already too strong and the refugees who are already too many.
The last 5 years have been the hottest on record. Unabated greenhouse gas emissions due to human activity mean that global warming is likely to rise from the current 1˚C higher than pre-industrial levels to 1.5˚C as early as 2030, according to the most recent IPCC report. The resultant extreme weather conditions are ravaging all five continents. Already this year we have seen extreme heat and floods in Australia, and bushfires destroy vast tracts of irreplaceable wild forest in Tasmania – as devastating as those which killed more than 100 people in California last November.
Hurricanes in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans are becoming more destructive. Antarctic ice sheets are melting six times faster than they were in the 1980s, which is why 200,000 migrants are predicted to be on the move in Bangladesh due to rising sea levels and increasing soil salinity. In Southern Africa drought and desertification due to more intense warming here by the end of the century may create millions more.
The tipping point is approaching much faster than previously assumed, leaving only 12 years to avert the catastrophe of pushing 1.5˚C. to 2˚C, when all the polar bears, whales and coral will be lost and an unprecedented climate experiment will be unleashed upon the world.
You know all those imminent disaster movies where the danger signs are there but everyone is blithely ignoring them apart from the one maverick guy with the passion and determination to point them out?
The only person talking sense in the world right now is a teenage girl from Sweden whose autistic gift allows her to blank out the babble of glittery nonsense surrounding us and demand attention for the only facts that matter:
Our house is on fire.
There is no more time.
We have to act now.
Greta Thunberg is a greater leader with a better grasp of realpolitik than any president or prime minister in the world today. (Seriously: listen to her TED talk now). It is time to stand with her, to strike for climate justice and speak truth to power. Tens of thousands of school kids across Australia and Europe have already heeded her call, and this Friday so too will students across UK, with the blessing of over 200 academics.
It’s time South African youth also joined #FridaysforFuture and demand that our authorities:
- Stop everything. Suspend all time-wasting arguments about land expropriation, Brexit or the Wall. At this rate, global warming will ruin most arable land before agreement is reached on reform and isolationism won’t keep out carbon or methane.
- Start taking this seriously. Declare a Climate Emergency and make ending fossil fuel production, reliance and influence the number one government priority (as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is proposing with the Green New Deal in US).
- Urgently establish independent panels of environmental and disaster management experts to make plans at local, national and international levels for adaptation and resilience.
In South Africa in 1976, Soweto children took the lead in protest. They refused to go to school because they were being forced to learn in the language of their oppressor. People all over the world were horrified that a government could shoot at children who were standing up for justice. It was the beginning of the end for the blinkered apartheid regime. Those children changed the course of history.
Greta is refusing to go to school one day a week until the Swedish parliament honour the Paris agreement because what is the point in preparing for a world that will not exist unless our governments wake up to realities? What is the point in us recycling yoghurt pots when 100 fossil fuel companies are responsible for over 70% of the world’s emissions?
She is right. School is pointless if it is not equipping you to face the coming situation. If it is not teaching you how to work together, to save water, to grow your own food and to maintain calm and peace in the face of potential extinction. Humans have wiped out 60% of wildlife since 1970; now we’re on the verge of doing the same to ourselves.
Ten years ago my husband and I realised the way the wind was blowing and decided to take our children on an adventure. For the last 6 years we have been travelling Africa Clockwise in a Big Green Truck running on waste vegetable oil. It was our chance to spend quality time together as a family, but also to prepare our kids to live with less, and cope.
When we set off, we thought it was their children who would bear the brunt of environmental chaos and potential social collapse, not ours. Not in our lifetime.
(I have a disease called M.E.: my metabolism does not work properly so, like Mother Earth, my energy is not renewable. My body is like a sieve and my energy is like sand that continually leaks out of the holes, even though I lie motionless for the majority of the day. Every night I sweep up the sand and pour it back into myself but inevitably some is lost, so I have less to start with tomorrow.
The one benefit of being mostly confined to my bed is that I am granted more stillness, more quietness, more space to face up to the magnitude of what is happening.)
The beautiful WWF Fight For Your World ad says: “We are the first generation to know we are destroying our planet and the last one that can do anything about it“. You are the mythical rainbow warriors the world has been waiting for. It is time to stand up with your peers and demand the attention of the stupid adults in charge.
In this disaster movie, there is no hero but you.
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JOIN THE GLOBAL SCHOOL STRIKE FOR CLIMATE ON FRIDAY 15TH MARCH: CAPE TOWN MEET 12 NOON OUTSIDE PARLIAMENT