Add hope to back-to-school list

(August 22, 2019)

It’s back-to-school-shopping time again. Stores are full of harried parents, trying to balance school supply lists against offspring demands and the budget shambles of summer’s end.

The climate crisis is not on their list, or their radar, but it should be.

Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg is not going back to school this fall. She marked the 52nd week of her School Strike for the Climate on a sailboat in the North Atlantic, refusing to fly and instead going carbon-neutral to New York for the UN climate summit.

Her blunt message is the same now as when she first sat down with her crude sign in front of the Swedish Parliament a year ago: “The adults have failed us.”

And so we have. For 30 years, I have been teaching writing and agitating for cultural change. We need to live with the Earth’s ecological systems, not against them, and with dignity and justice for all. Science, history and common sense tell us the truth of these ideas.

Yet the adult leadership in charge of business, industry and especially government has done little or nothing to change the catastrophic course of our society. Whatever our role, we have all failed the children.

As an activist (and despite circumstances, an optimist), I keep hoping that, one day, the parents will wake up.

They will wake up and realize what kind of world their children will inherit, if nothing changes, and they will see everything that is said or done through that lens. They will measure what is needed for a sustainable future against the pathetic efforts of current politicians to change course, and against the pointless greed of consumer culture that makes us as disposable as plastic forks.

When the parents wake up, everything will change — have you seen what a mother bear will do to protect her cub? Imagine a province — or a planet — full of mother bears, and the anger that will be directed at the people who have made things worse instead of better.

Imagine their reaction, in a world on fire because of our overuse of fossil fuels, to Premier Brian Pallister’s election pledge to reduce vehicle registration costs by $35 a year, to make it more affordable to drive a car. On top of removing the PST on dead people and pedicures, this latest splurge is either ridiculous or contemptuous.

I am not surprised, though. He has squandered the past three years on ideological posturing instead of working collaboratively toward a sustainable future for Manitobans. Of all the adults in the room, his failure is the greatest.

To be clear, the NDP did little better, and for a longer time. The green flurry at the end of premier Greg Selinger’s government was a desperation move, finally listening to what backbenchers such as MLA Rob Altemeyer (Wolseley) had been advocating for years. But it was too little, too late.

I perked up listening to Dougald Lamont talking about the Liberal green plan, but that enthusiasm quickly faded when he said it was just one of the things on their list of priorities. As for the Green party, while I think a guaranteed income is a good idea, I had hoped their party would champion a sustainable future this time around, instead of being a sinkhole for votes from the left.

The climate crisis is a crisis, not an option. It is a fact, not an interpretation. We will either manage it, or it will manage us — especially if the adults continue to fail those children we are about to send back to school.

In a crisis, every moment counts. Every decision is crucial. Every person is needed to do what they can, together.

Yet instead of a response to this crisis, the barrage of political attack ads has begun. Each one digs the grave of our children’s future a little deeper, distracting us from the real issues on which we should be focused.

Instead of collaboration, we are divided against each other, pitting generation against generation, as the (elderly) elite few continue to profit from the misery of those whose future they are burning.

So on Sept. 10, every vote counts. No seat, and no MLA, should be safe.

Measure what they say they will do, or claim they have done, against what is needed.

Whatever government is elected, on Sept. 27 — the global day to strike for the climate, following the movement Thunberg started — we must demand action that matters from them. Your kids will not be in school that day and you need to join them.

Will any of this be enough to make a difference? I don’t know. But when my kids turn to me, in the midst of whatever disasters the future holds because the adults have failed them, at least I want to say that I tried.

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