Youth climate action could go further

Today, around the country and around the South, children will be forgoing school for the School Strike 4 Climate protest. The global movement today's event is part of stems from last year's well-publicised protest by a young Swedish girl, Greta Thunberg.

It's stating the obvious, but children are New Zealand's future adults. That they are aware of and willing to engage on something as complex as climate change, and are concerned about ever-increasing pollution levels, is fundamentally positive and is something the bulk of this country's adults would applaud. But that doesn't mean today's action should pass without discussion or critique.

A common concern voiced over the past few days has addressed the motivation of those encouraging the protest. Is it entirely child-led, or are adult political ambitions being exercised behind the scenes? Using children for political gain is unpleasant, but not uncommon. Whether that is happening here is worth discussion, but it should be remembered this is a global movement begun by a Swedish schoolgirl, not New Zealand politicians.

Should children be missing school for climate change protests? In truth, it is unlikely many parents disapprove of climate science and environmental concerns being taught in our schools. It is less clear whether parents want their children taught that the answer to such problems lies in strikes demanding someone else do something about it.

And herein lies the concerning aspect of today's strike. It isn't the cause, the science, or that children are too young to be involved in environmental discussions and action. It certainly isn't that global warming and pollution aren't serious issues worthy of agitation, debate, campaigning and more.

The concerning aspect is that these issues are all being bundled up and used as justification for teaching our children that when something needs fixing, you strike. That may seem well and good for a portion of this country but it is very unlikely to be the belief of the majority.

Would it not be better to encourage our children that the most effective thing they can do to fight for and produce meaningful change in the world is to bring change in their own lives? The previous Labour government showed how that could be done.

During Helen Clark's reign, schools around the country were encouraged and resourced to not only embark on planting vegetable gardens at their schools, but on teaching how and why fresh produce mattered. The consequence was parents being taught by their children to change the way they shopped for food, to have a go at gardening and cooking different meals, and to ensure fresh produce was a part of their lives.

Children have the power to shame adults with surprising ease. And the growing consumerism fuelling many of the climate change and pollution issues is something children could well lead a move away from. So, too, could children demand better transport choices by their parents, reduced waste around the home and far more. It is not that it is their responsibility to do so - it is that they do have the power to effect change.

But that isn't what today's action is about. Instead, it is about believing a complex problem is best tackled by going on strike. Perhaps our children would be better off being inspired to be the change they seek because, to arrest climate change, all of us will need to take myriad little actions. It isn't the lack of sweeping legislation stopping the culture change needed. It is individuals refusing to adapt.

While the cause of today's strike is a vital one, it does seem the action itself is not the best vehicle to produce the necessary change.

Comments

8 hours working day, sick pay, paid holidays, social security and health system were not handed down to people waiting politely. All were won through political struggle, striking is a big part of it.

 

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