by Mike Robinson, RSGS Chief Executive
On Friday 15th March, I attended the school climate strike in Edinburgh. I had come in support because I wanted to gauge the mood and see how many young people would be bold and take the day off school. Similar ‘strikes’ were going on all over Scotland and in perhaps 100 or more countries around the world, involving tens of thousands of young people demanding a right to a future without having to fear climate change. I cannot think of a similar event in my lifetime, and it felt something that needed to be witnessed. I was also keen to ascertain how much it had grown.
Back in January, I happened to be passing the Scottish Parliament and saw two small figures sitting outside the main entrance, draped in cardboard banners. I knew about the young girl (Greta Thunberg) who had started ‘striking’ last year in Sweden, and how it was spreading around the world. I knew it had begun to pop up in Ullapool, Fort William and other towns, and I wanted to see if it had spread to Edinburgh. It had. I wandered across and sat with them. These two youngsters aged six and nine had made a significant and bold effort to sit outside our Parliament and protest. Quite honestly, whatever they were protesting about, I wanted to understand what they had to say.
On 15th March, only nine weeks later, the two, who were both back, had been joined by another perhaps 3,000 young people. It was remarkable. And it is unprecedented.
The media, however, is largely focusing on whether young people should have skipped school at all, and have invited a variety of grown-ups to comment on the rights and wrongs of this. But hardly any have spoken to the young people themselves. And few have focused on why they are doing it.
Our young people are increasingly feeling let down by us, the older generations. They have a great deal of economic uncertainty – insecure jobs, educational debts, unaffordable housing, little prospect of a pension when they get older – and they are swamped by a demographically larger retired population, so their voice and their concerns are not being heard. Much of the media response to this ‘strike’ has reinforced that. And on top of all of this, we are handing them an increasingly depleted environment and unstable climate, with all of the science indicating that this is only going to get worse. I cannot condemn them striking. I don’t blame them at all. I only fear that if we continue to refuse to listen, and we don’t begin to make real efforts, our already fractured society is going to split wide open.
It’s about time we started creating an economy, a society, an environment, in fact a future, they can believe in. And we really need to get a move on.