Climate Change Activism Still a Learning Experience
Brandon Sun, November 18, 2019 - David McConkey
In Westman and around the
world, millions of school students are protesting inaction around
climate change. One of the inspirations is Swedish teenager Greta
Thunberg. Objections have also been raised, like: should children
have to be concerned about serious global problems? All in all, I
see wonderful opportunities for kids to learn valuable life lessons.
First, let’s acknowledge objections to students’ marching out of school in protest about climate change. Aren’t the children being needlessly troubled by frightening issues? Shouldn’t kids realize how much they depend now on fossil fuels and carbon emissions, whether it is the school bus they ride on, their home heating, or the livelihoods of their parents? Shouldn’t other concerns – such as childhood poverty and hunger in many parts of the world – command their attention instead? And finally, to protest climate change policies by skipping school, aren’t students having too much fun?
These are important objections. I hope that folks who have concerns about child activism take their objections up with their local school. I hope they also question kids whom they encounter in family or community settings. And I hope that young people learn from discussions with others who have diverse perspectives. Yes, there is the science, but dealing with climate change is complicated. And good people can have different viewpoints.
Knowing how to respectfully converse with those who disagree with us is a great skill to have. And let’s all practise good generational etiquette. No condescension from the oldsters. No snide dismissal from the youngsters, like the suddenly ubiquitous retort, “OK, boomer.”
We cannot shield today’s children from an awareness of climate change. In the same way, when I was a child, my baby boom generation could not be shielded from an awareness of the threat of nuclear annihilation.
Let’s also keep the timeline in perspective. When we older adults talk about the world climate situation in, say, 2030, that is a long way off for us. By that date, many of us old folks could well be dead. But for kids in middle years or high school, the year 2030 is not a long way off – they will be in their 20s.
Taking action with others is part of good citizenship, and part of good psychology as well. Personal engagement is especially relevant in today’s social media environment. There is the real world beyond the internet. There is social action beyond signing online petitions and other gestures of “clicktivism.”
For students to be out in the street with others is good preparation for life-long community participation. Think of protesting, volunteering, fund-raising, commemorating and voting.
There is another lesson here waiting to be revealed. Throughout our lives, we can be inspired by extraordinary people. One person inspiring many right now is Greta Thunberg. These amazing individuals include activists, artists, entrepreneurs, political leaders and others. But something we must remember: they are all too human.
Sometimes we realize that one of these impressive individuals has acted in ways that were less than wise, less than prudent or less than honourable. And, other times, when we become aware of adversity overcome, we realize that they are even more impressive than we first thought. In Thunberg’s case, she has been diagnosed with several conditions, including anxiety, depression and Asperger syndrome.
There is much about extraordinary people, as there is about life. There is ambiguity. There is disappointment. There is inspiration.
And finally, as students walk out of their schools in protest, aren’t they having too much fun? Considering that question can illuminate the quandary posed at the beginning: should children have to be concerned about serious global problems? Yes, they should. And in taking action, young people might also glimpse something else: in the end, we have only the experience of the present moment.
You go, kids! Become engaged with global issues. Learn and develop skills. Make friends. Have fun!
So, what can school students learn about climate change activism? Turns out the world is complicated. Issues are controversial. People with good intentions can disagree with one another. Looking up from our phones and interacting with other folks in the real world is a good thing. Extraordinary, inspiring people are all too human. And in the midst of concern about global problems, we can have fun, we can savour the present moment.
These are good life lessons. For young people. And for everyone else, too. And that comes around to another lesson: we can always be learning.
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