Climate change: Children are carving out a place in politics, now adults must listen and act

Climate change: children are carving out a place in politics – now adults must listen and act
Thunberg at a school strike in Washington, D.C. Credit: Aschwaphoto/Shutterstock

There's no doubt that young people today are driving action on climate change. The #FridaysforFuture school strikes are arguably the most dedicated and sustained direct action in a generation. School pupils have kicked off an international movement committed to addressing the injustices, mass extinctions and environmental damage caused by climate change—while also building global networks, speaking out in public and holding the adults around them to account.

As more adults and institutions join the protests, it seems the agency of these young people is finally being recognized. But conversations about climate change still appeal to authorities for answers—whether calling for politicians to act, or for people to listen to scientists.

Of course, listening to experts and holding politicians to account is an important part of what climate activists need to achieve. But it's not the only part. As the schools strikes continue to gain momentum, it's time to think about how young people can be meaningfully involved in shaping the future of our planet.

Unfortunately, there are still significant barriers preventing children from making their voices heard in democratic societies—not least the way they are represented in the media. As academics interested in children in politics and culture, we're exploring these issues as part of a project called Europe and the Child—Crisis, Activism, Culture. So far, we've found that cultural images of children involved in activism reveal adult desires and anxieties, rather than providing real empowerment.

Are you listening?

Swedish activist Greta Thunberg captured the world's attention when she was invited to address world leaders at the UN conference on in December 2018, at just 15 years of age. Since then, her school strikes have become a global phenomenon. Through international media coverage and meetings with high-profile political figures, Thunberg has brought the climate emergency into view, right at the heart of political power in the West.

Thunberg has explained that her actions were inspired by by the Parkland students' protests against gun violence, while the school strike model builds on the walkouts and sit-ins by African-American students during the civil rights era.

Thunberg is not the first young person to address the UN climate conference. Kathy Jenil-Kijiner, a Marshall Islands poet and activist, has called for urgent action as rising sea levels threaten her home, as has young diplomat Yeb Sano from the Philippines. Global climate injustice cannot be fully understood without listening to, and empowering, young people from around the world.

Thunberg's role as spokesperson for the younger generation is fraught with difficulties. As a child herself, Thunberg has insisted that the blame for the current climate emergency—and the responsibility for fixing it –lies with older generations. Yet adults and establishment figures have repeatedly sought to position her either as a prophet and a child saviour, or as a naive puppet of interested parties.

For example, writer and activist Naomi Klein praised Thunberg for her moral clarity, arguing that she is one of the youth voices that has "burst through the bureaucratic language with which we shield ourselves from the reality of the stakes, the extraordinary stakes of our moment in history," and that young people have found a sense of agency in Thunberg's school strikes, and her insistence that no one is too small to make a difference.

Conversely, Thunberg has also been subjected to a series of attacks from right-wing establishment figures and climate deniers, doubting her sincerity and ridiculing her appearance and her way of speaking, with reference to her Asperger's diagnosis. Some of those criticisms have also been leveled at the school strikes movement, with politicians calling young participants "truants" and "puppets."

A story of empowerment

Beyond the media coverage, there has also been a surge in fiction and non-fiction books published about the climate crisis for young people. Some publishers have called this "the Greta effect", though the environment has been a concern in children's literature since at least the 1970s, exemplified by Dinosaurs and all that Rubbish by Michael Foreman.

In contrast to that classic parable—which seeks to educate its readers—recent books including Lily Dyu's Earth Heroes and Martin Dorey's Kids Fight Plastic present children as saviors of the planet.

It's positive that books by adults are recognizing the agency of young people and seeking to empower them further. But this rhetoric also burdens young people with the responsibility for change, while political institutions afford them little power.

It's not enough to put children on the covers of newspapers and call them "heroes." It's not even enough to listen to the concerns they're raising through the global strikes for action. Adults in positions of authority need to give young people the means to change the world and create their own visions for the future.


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Citation: Climate change: Children are carving out a place in politics, now adults must listen and act (2019, September 20) retrieved 17 October 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-09-climate-children-politics-adults.html
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mqr
Sep 20, 2019
The nature of childhood has been tied to chronological time. If maturity is evaluated based on the content of the thoughts and speech of humans, the very stable genius in the white house would be rated an infant, since no adult with formal education would say things like "we are living in the post truth" or "we need to go back to coal" or "there were very fine people at both sides" (implying that the members of hate groups are great human beings).

The chronological age has been taken as equal to psychological development/maturity, and time after time has been proven to be a mistake, because frequently humans that are just starting their life can say and think very advanced thoughts.

Sep 20, 2019
Face it, most of the young people of today function more as witless dupes for crooks. Many if not most don't have an understanding of the world and many if not most are easily given to unease. They don't take the message that the endless warnings about the Cold War never took place. They don't realize"nuclear winter" was invoked and got a lot of response, then disappeared. They don't realize the "ozone hole" was treated that the ultimate threat but now isn't mentioned. They don't ask why "terrorist" events seen today didn't occur before 2001. They think that, just because someone in a lab coat says something, that means they are necessarily telling the truth. They don't realize that many likely tried to get attention like Greta Thunberg but failed, that Thunberg's record is huge success abnormally fast, suggesting it is an engineered swindle. The adults claimed to be useless in the issue today once were young people, too!

Sep 20, 2019
The moment, any of those IPCC Climate Scientists can scientifically explain Greta's superpower to see invisible CO2, I'll fall in line with the rest of their ignorant Chicken Littles.

Sep 20, 2019
As the old story goes, it sometimes takes a child to fearlessly blurt out the reality unfolding before its very eyes: "The Emperor has no clothes".

And of course, it sometimes takes an objective reality checker to point out the 'weaponised stupids' and/or 'bots' posting here, such as the pitifully obvious "@antigoracle"; hence: "The @antigoracle has no clue". Pity.

Sep 20, 2019
As the old @RC goes, so does his mind. It always takes the meds to put a Check on his "Reality" unfolding before all, but his eyes: "The idiot is mental".

And of course, it sometimes takes an objective reality checker to point out just how stupid are his postings here, such as pitifully......blah...blah.blah.blah....blah... Pity. :(

Sep 21, 2019
@antigoracle.
As the old @RC goes, so does his mind. It always takes the meds to put a Check on his "Reality" unfolding before all, but his eyes: "The idiot is mental".

And of course, it sometimes takes an objective reality checker to point out just how stupid are his postings here, such as pitifully......blah...blah.blah.blah....blah... Pity. :(
Is that it? Is that the best your 'weaponised stupidity' and/or 'bot program' can come up with in reply to objective observations of your long posting activity here? Your Russian/GOP/Fossil lobby troll-factory employers/programmers must be getting pretty annoyed seeing what their 'thirty pieces of silver' has bought them so far. Too bad.

Sep 21, 2019
Oh @RC, the Russians have barely enough resources to program a bot to handle your stupid. Now go take your meds, before it blows up, trying to deal with your crazy on top of that.

Sep 21, 2019
@antigoracle.
Oh @RC, the Russians have barely enough resources to program a bot to handle your stupid. Now go take your meds, before it blows up, trying to deal with your crazy on top of that.
They seem to have had just enough ('thirty pieces') of 'silver' to buy themselves a low-grade 'weaponised stupid' such as yourself. Obviously. And they seem to have got what they paid for: a bargain-basement "@antigoracle" crap-troll. Serves 'em right, the lousy cheapskates! :)

Sep 22, 2019
Yeah @RC, it's too bad those lousy cheapskate Ruskies can't afford your HIGH-GRADE impotent stupid.

Sep 22, 2019
@antigoracle.
Yeah @RC, it's too bad those lousy cheapskate Ruskies can't afford your HIGH-GRADE impotent stupid.
Watching you now, going about your last-gasp 'weaponised stupid' troll-posting motions is like watching a spring winding down to ineffectuality, mate. And your low-grade bot/programming status is become all too obvious now, @antigoracle. Nothing left at your end except residual insensibility and running-down-bot whine. Pity.

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