Editor’s Note: Paul Hockenos is a Berlin-based writer focusing on renewable energy in Europe. He is the author of four books on European issues, most recently “Berlin Calling: A Story of Anarchy, Music, the Wall and the Birth of the New Berlin.” The opinions in this article are those of the author. View more opinion on CNN.
My 12-year-old son is cutting school on September 15 — an act of non-violent civil disobedience that his mother and I approve of entirely.
In fact, we’re skipping work to go with him and about a third of his 7th grade to the Global Climate Strike in Berlin — one of hundreds of climate marches happening in cities around the world this Friday and over the weekend.
For five years now — since the 15-year-old Greta Thunberg sat out Friday classes in Stockholm, Sweden, setting in motion a worldwide mass movement — elementary and high school students have taken to the streets by the hundreds of thousands to call out politicos and the entire adult world for failing so egregiously to confront the climate crisis.
In September 2019, millions of people, led by school kids, marched across time zones to underscore the emergency at hand. It was one of the biggest climate protests ever.
And in the US, too, young people have taken this crisis into their hands. In Montana last month, a group of young people aged 5 to 22 took the state to court and won a landmark ruling that held that Montana must protect its citizens from climate change. That’s political savvy!
All these determined young people deserve immense credit as they challenged the law to make their point, and in doing so turbocharged the global discussion on the climate crisis.
I’ve spoken at length with many young people behind this push, including my son and his friends. It’s remarkable how politicized they are in contrast to me and my junior high friends at the same age. Politics didn’t concern us — and we certainly didn’t take the weight of an existential crisis like climate breakdown onto our shoulders.
The effort they’ve expended in grasping the complex science of global warming is remarkable. Take, for example, my son’s bestie Essien who has chosen to be a vegetarian because of livestock production’s giant carbon footprint. In doing so, they’ve translated climate science into political engagement.
In discussion, and on the TV and radio talk shows, the young people quake with indignation. They talk passionately of a system that is wrecking their future and which they — ineligible to vote — have no say in. They talk about “taking back their future.”
They’ve opted for the school strike and other forms of civil disobedience because the decisions directly affecting their lives are made over their heads — and often it seems for the worse. As they say, they’re the ones most affected in the long term — and yet, in many cases, their young age means they’re not even able to vote.
The way they can be heard is to take to the streets. And doing so on a school day packs an even harder punch — that’s civil disobedience.
Calling on the findings of climate scientists, they point fingers at us, their elders and our systems — which, though they come in different shapes across the globe — all in some way oblige the fossil fuel industry, condone corporate greed and fetishize consumption.
Ultimately, the logic of these young environmentalists is impeccable. They seem to understand better than many adults what they will inherit. They foresee a chaotic, broken world in which extreme weather events caused or aggravated by atmospheric greenhouse gases trigger mass migration, democratic breakdown , lower living standards and perilous social tensions.
The campaign behind Thunberg’s group, Fridays for Future, has moved a mountain. The audacity of school kids going truant in the name of the planet forced the world’s powerful to finally take the crisis seriously. The EU’s landmark European Green Deal, the bloc’s bundled climate policies, and the Biden administration’s climate measures, such as the Inflation Reduction Act, are in part at least responses to the ire of their societies’ youngest members.
Yet, global emissions are still rising. The world is not decarbonizing at anywhere near the pace that it must to stop extreme weather events from increasing. The world has just experienced its hottest summer on record.
For all their clout, because the climate strikers are predominantly children, their truancies are not an imminent threat to the civil order. And political officials know these pre-teens and teenagers mostly won’t vote in the next set of elections.
This is why adults must join them en masse this Friday and weekend, taking responsibility for a crisis that we created, and that we can help solve. The greatest threat facing our world shouldn’t be sloughed off to children and young people — which is exactly what our passivity does.
Of course, there are adults marching too, some here in Germany with groups with names like Parents for Future, Scientists for Future and Entrepreneurs for Future, which lobby within their peer groups. An array of climate activist groups surged in the slipstream of the global climate strikes, and now campaign on their own and together with it. In the US, over 500 groups are backing the weekend’s climate marches in major cities.
Our societies already have everything required to brake and even reverse global warming: the technology in the form of renewable energies and clean tech, the money to finance our economies’ green transformation, the smart policies to decarbonize our societies and the best practices where these policies have already worked, from California to Greece.
The majority must mobilize and the global climate marches are one, high-profile, legitimate way to do it. If the kids are willing to be marked truant for the day — and bear those consequences — then we adults can skip a day of work.
Everyone — young and old — who understands the severity of the crisis facing humankind and our planet should occupy the streets and public fora this weekend.
We can’t leave our children to do it for us.
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