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Children Triggered the Climate Emergency, Now Adults Must Address It

Guardian Live Event on 22nd April 2019, featuring Anna Taylor (left), Greta Thunberg (center) and Caroline Lucas (right). Image by Ryan Mizzen

2nd May 2019

On the 1st May 2019, more than 30 years after Dr James Hansen first warned the world about the dangers posed by climate change, the UK Parliament passed a motion declaring an ‘environment and climate change emergency’. This follows on the back of Scotland and Wales declaring a climate emergency.

Despite countless peer-reviewed scientific reports, global summits and documentaries by well-known figures, it’s taken the combination of two forces of activism to get the biggest threat facing humanity onto the political agenda.

The Extinction Rebellion movement garnered extensive attention to the climate crisis, through non-violent action which brought parts of London to a standstill through consecutive days of protest in April, where more than 1,000 activists were arrested.

However, there is one person who has perhaps done more than anyone else to draw attention to the climate crisis — the 16 year-old girl from Sweden, Greta Thunberg. In August 2018, Greta Thunberg began a school climate strike to protest against the lack of action on climate change. When facts don’t matter and science is being ignored by our leaders, then what’s the point of learning? It was time that politicians treated the climate crisis like a crisis. These were the rational arguments put forward by Greta.

So she sat alone outside the Swedish Parliament. One girl with a sign, handing out leaflets. Then something remarkable began to happen. Children in other towns and cities started coming out to protest in solidarity. Fast-forward seven months to a global day of action on Friday 15th March 2019. It’s estimated that around 1.4 million children in over 2,200 cities in 128 countries went on school climate strike to call for climate action. Greta had inspired a global movement.

With a Nobel peace prize nomination, Swedish woman on the year award and countless press features, Greta has become a global environmental icon, who has shown what one person can do. Never underestimate the power of a determined individual, Greta, has shown what a single person can achieve.

It’s not a great sign for our democracies, when young children possess more knowledge about severe threats like climate change than our elected leaders. It’s also not a great sign for our democracies when children are forced to take to the streets to campaign for their futures. Yet that’s the burden we’ve placed on their shoulders.

Even if we’ve become rightly cynical and disillusioned with politicians and their motives, we can’t let future generations down — the crisis has fallen on our watch. Declaring a climate emergency is the first step, but taking action to address it is the next step and most crucial one. Together we must ensure that politicians begin the urgent task of transforming our economies and societies by moving away from fossil fuels and rewilding the natural world to draw down carbon from the atmosphere.

We need to make-up for 30 years of lost time to avert the worst impacts of climate change by treating this as a war for our survival and entering a period of rapid transformation not seen since the Second World War.

We have the knowledge, the resources and now the momentum. All that’s lacking is the political action to avert climate and ecological breakdown. It’s time that more adults step-up to make sure that politicians heed the science and act like the future depends on it, because we justifiably won’t be forgiven for failing children like Greta, who’ve carried us this far.

My debut children’s picture book, Hedgey-A and the Honey Bees, is about the need to protect bees from pesticide pollution. It can be purchased online here.

Published inThe Climate Crisis