Follow the children’s lead

(March 27, 2019)

As the school strikes spread around the world on March 15, inspired by Greta Thunberg’s example, I watched what the global mainstream media chose to report.

Granted, that black Friday also brought other things into our newsfeed from New Zealand, but according to most sources, you wouldn’t know anything much had happened. Some kids, some places, walked out of school. CBC focused on the hundred or so who gathered in front of the Manitoba legislature.

Yet, as the numbers were counted by the organizers, estimates were on the order of 1.4 million people, mostly students, at over 2,000 sites in more than 125 countries.

It was an extraordinary achievement for a movement without a leader, a movement that will continue to gather strength and momentum despite the dismissals of those adults who mistakenly believe they hold all the power in our global society.

Greta rang the bell when, confronting world leaders, she bluntly told them — and us — that “you are not mature enough” to respond to climate change. Clearly, our society and its adult leaders need an attitude adjustment in order to deal with the world as it is.

I reached that same conclusion when I read the online comments posted on my last op-ed piece in this paper. I received a torrent of abuse for daring to say that the Pallister government (and others) had not done enough to confront the issues around climate change that Manitobans, present and future, will face.

There were the predictable posts from the usual trolls, wanting “more information” (as though that would change their minds!) or complaining that in 800 words or fewer, I had not sufficiently fleshed out my arguments to prove there was any problem with global warming.

Nor had I offered detailed and realistic solutions to the issues I had identified, demonstrating (once again) I had no clue about any of these issues.

Interestingly, this time, the trolls did not go unchallenged or unanswered — which is why the number of comments spiralled upward.

So, for those who actually want information, type “Global Environmental Outlook 6 report” (or GEO 6) into your search bar. You will find the final version, approved earlier this month by the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA 4) in Nairobi. If you want the shorter version, select the “Summary for Policy Makers.”

I was fortunate to be involved in GEO 6 from the very beginning, offering interventions at UNEA 1 and 2 in support of its process, which included more voices than ever before. Setting a new precedent for civil society engagement, as MGS regional representative to UNEP for North America (accredited through the United Church of Canada), I was elected rapporteur for the intergovernmental, multi-stakeholder meetings in Berlin in 2014 that established the parameters of GEO 6, making me responsible for compiling and presenting the final report. I participated as an author in the North American regional assessment, and was an expert reviewer of successive drafts right through to the end of the global GEO 6 report.

In such a large undertaking, of course my part was only a small one — but it was an honour to be one of the few Canadians who had any role at all.

How are we doing? Briefly, we are nowhere near the benchmarks to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, or the greenhouse gas emission reductions required in the Paris agreement to keep global temperature rise close to 2 C. Other, more comprehensive goals for 2050 are far out of reach at the moment.

Climate change understood only in terms of greenhouse gas emissions is incomplete, however. We urgently need to talk about ecological justice.

Developing countries will bear the brunt of climate change they did not create. When a storm like typhoon Idai wipes out 90 per cent of Beira, the main port city of Mozambique, and affects 2.6 million people in the region, it is much worse than a similar storm hitting the sea coast of a developed country like the United States. There is infrastructure elsewhere in a developed country to deliver aid, money to pay for it and people to help.

Not in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi. Cyclone Idai is perhaps the most devastating weather event ever to hit the southern hemisphere, but it has received minimal news coverage, with no cross-references to climate change, and — so far — the devastated region has been promised little help.

But Greta and her colleagues remind us that we also must consider generational justice.

Refusing to listen to our children’s concerns about their future, closing our minds to the impending disaster literally sweeping in from the sea, is evidence of real sickness in the leadership of our society and the adult elites who arrogantly persist in business as usual.

As the school strikes spread, that attitude will change.

It must.

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