When climate strikers hit home

My 11- and 14-year-olds recently joined the global Climate Strike movement via a local chapter of the organization Earth Guardians.

I’ve worked on climate change for 15 years in the United States and Canada and am inspired by climate strikers. Yet I wasn’t exactly excited about my children getting involved, given how overwhelming climate change can be to think about and try to address. I didn’t want them to take on the weight of the world quite yet.

Regardless of my apprehension, I wasn’t going to stand in their way. Along with the other Earth Guardians, they organized an event in our town square followed by a march and motivated hundreds of elementary and high school students to leave school and protest over climate inaction. We live in a small town in British Columbia, so the numbers were impressive.

I have to say, it was inspiring to see a kid-powered event, from the speakers to the musicians and march leaders. I’ve participated in a lot of protests but the energy at the climate strike was beyond anything I’ve experienced. Particularly when the march started and the "grown-ups struggled to keep up the pace.

As a climate communicator, I was impressed by the clarity and power of the climate strikers’ narrative. Greta Thunberg has created a challenge-choice-opportunity framework that is being adopted by kids everywhere. Beyond the moral authority and urgency that children calling on leaders to act brings to the political conversation, my sense is that the consistency of the narrative being amplified around the world is partly why the climate strikers are getting so much attention.

The narrative framework also works because kids can create their own version of the story that reflects their context and experience. We live on Vancouver Island, so at our event, speakers highlighted the threat to our oceans and marine wildlife, the challenge of living with wildfires and impacts on agriculture. They called on our local government to take bold steps to cut carbon and prepare for impacts. And they shared the ways in which taking these steps would make our community better.

Fortunately, our elected leaders (federal, provincial and local) are serious about climate change and showed up to support the effort. Our federal Member of Parliament mentioned the climate strike in the House of Commons on the day of the event, which the kids played for everyone to hear. 

It was palatable how empowering the experience was for my children and everyone who participated. My initial reluctance melted away. I felt proud and happy for them.

Until a few days later.

Letting the issue in is tough, and I helped the kids struggle through feelings of being pressured to lead and truly frightened by the prospect of having no future worth staying in school for. We were able to do it and my sense is that they are better off being aware and engaged than not.

The climate strikers are adding an important voice and are generating political pressure. I hope it continues. At the same time, the children involved are internalizing the narrative that adults aren’t acting, that their future is doomed. This is the part of the storyline that has to change but it’s not up to kids to make that happen.

It’s time for adults to step up and provide a model of what it means to be a climate-aware and activated citizen. Talk about climate change with friends, families and neighbors. Vote for climate and participate in local policy and planning efforts. Cut emissions and take steps to prepare for impacts in our neighborhoods, homes and businesses.

Despite all the years working on climate change, the climate strikers in my house have taught me there is so much more we can all do to help young people to work through their distress, generate a sense of realistic hope and identify meaningful ways to create change.

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