Children from over forty UK schools went on strike in protest at Government’s inability to tackle climate change. Drawing supporting from academics and teachers’ unions, ire from parts of the media and vague indifference from the Government, their action was part of a worldwide movement organised by children for children.
It’s become common to see teenagers in our news feeds. Dissatisfied with the way politics represents them, an increasingly well informed, organised and committed faction of our youth is unwilling to stay silent. The adage “children should be seen and not heard” is now as outdated as the political views they protest against.
Older, more traditional politicians have yet to show they understand how to engage with this new movement. When Nadia Nazar, the 16-year-old climate activist and founder of the “Zero Hour” youth movement, was invited to speak before the US Congress Climate Hearings, she prepared herself for a thorough grilling. Yet after delivering an impassioned speech that reduced one congresswoman to tears and was referenced throughout what followed, the committee ignored her. Questions flew past her, directed at “the adults” rather than the person in the room who would have to live with the consequences of climate change.
A similar problem emerged as the “Climate Strike” took place in the UK. The Prime Minister called the mass protests a waste of teacher’s time, while Andrea Leadsom described it as truancy. Other members of the Conservative party and press also condemned the action in varying degrees. Yet none addressed the reasons why children felt the need to take to the streets.
This highlights the problem politics has with youth activism. Children are seen as people to be protected, who are yet to develop “life experiences” and have little value beyond some PR soundbites that “the views of children were included”. The media finds it difficult to deal with it too, rather than viewing the strike as a political movement or one about climate change, the BBC relegated their early coverage to the “Family and Education” section.
It contributes to a perception politics and media are ignoring their voice.
Yet children are the ones with the most to lose from climate change. Political decisions being taken today will have long-lasting consequences they will have to deal with. They want to know why they’re the ones being left with an environmental debt their parents created.
I’m not sure the adults have any good answers.
Image credit: David Holt