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Stand up for young people standing up

Comment & Opinion

WHAT’S THE REAL PROBLEM? The sneering reaction of many in the older generation to protests about the climate emergency needs to be examined.

Edwin McGreal

On Friday, September 20, last teenagers all over this county and country took to the streets to strike about climate change. The reaction said much about our attitudes to both the most pressing issue of our generation – the destruction of our planet – and to young people daring to express themselves.
There was much support for the position set forward by the principal of Blackrock College in south Dublin, that bastion of the Irish establishment, who described the strike action as ‘a tad infuriating’ and urged parents of students at the fee-charging school to ensure their sons did not take part in the strike.
The September strike followed on from a similar day of action in March, when more than 11,000 students marched on Dáil Éireann seeking urgent action to address the growing threat of climate breakdown.
But the reaction of many of the older generation was to criticise and sneer at the young people. Saying that if they were serious about their belief, they would do it on a Saturday. That they should just do what they are told.
How often have we decried the lack of interest the younger generation might have in the world around us, in politics, in matters of state? How can we be so enraged, then, when the same young people stand up for something they believe so strongly in? Surely this is a good thing.
But when you look at many commentators’ views on the issue, it would appear they think not.
Far too many people who are paid to comment and inform have expressed far more rage about children protesting about the impact of climate change than about climate change itself.
Think about that for a moment.
Telling children to keep quiet preoccupies many older people more than the climate emergency itself. Sadly, this includes very influential people the world over from the President of the United States down.
How’s that for leadership?
The anger is best encapsulated in the insults directed towards and the bullying of 16-year-old Swedish climate-emergency activist Greta Thunberg.
The young Swede has been a very strong voice on the subject, but her critics have been quicker to question her motivations and belittle her than to address the core points she has been stridently making.
There has been some disgusting commentary about Thunberg having Asperger Syndrome. The worst kind of deflective nonsense.
There has been, by comparison, little enough debate of her views – and issue could be taken with parts of what she says.
The nature of the appropriate response to the climate emergency is up for debate, but it is undeniable that we have a real problem on our hands. And the problem is certainly not a 16-year-old girl.
A growing number of commentators continue to propagate the idea that climate change is being grossly exaggerated or, worse, that it is not a reality at all.
Perhaps denying the extent of the problem is easier than confronting the frightening extent of it.
Perhaps people are more concerned with not having to change their comfortable ways in order be part of the solution.
Perhaps people are selfish and don’t like being told what they are doing is wrong by a 16 year old.
Because one thing that Greta Thunberg firmly has in her corner is any amount of scientific facts about the future facing this Earth and all who inhabit it.
The discussion of the extent of the problem has evolved over the years as more and more research has copper-fastened the reality.
As economist JM Keynes is purported to have said, “When the facts change, I change my mind.”
For too many people, such wise self-reflection and willingness to change is a step too far, and so instead of facing up to the extent of the problem, they scoff and point and deflect. In turn, they show a breathtaking disregard for future generations.
Our Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, a man who many would often disagree with, brought some maturity to the discussion on Greta Thunberg.
“The bottom line is she’s a 16 year old who’s trying to make the world a better place. Why would you want to slag her off?”
I wonder if many of those who are so quick not just to criticise, but to insult Greta Thunberg can say the same about their contribution to life on Earth.