Monday 14 October 2019

Lorraine Courtney: 'Skipping school won't deliver a brighter future - climate change needs grown-up thinking'

Green ambitions: Cimate activist Kallan Benson from ‘Friday for Futures’ gives a speech on Capitol Hill in Washington. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Green ambitions: Cimate activist Kallan Benson from ‘Friday for Futures’ gives a speech on Capitol Hill in Washington. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Lorraine Courtney

Lorraine Courtney

Irish children are skipping school again tomorrow in another strike for climate action. We all know that rising CO2 is warming our planet, but swarms of 10-year-olds waving placards on our streets doesn't tell us how we should respond.

The Taoiseach came out in support of the strike last March. He said: "The fact that young people are taking action, protesting and are going to strike and take a break from school on March 15 is good."

Kids, it's not a real strike if the Government, whose policies you're trying to protest, are behind you. We need grown-up action on climate change and protesting children should go back to class.

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READ MORE: Climate protests in pictures: Thousands take to the streets of Australia as acting prime minister slams 'disruptive' rallies

It's not just happening in Ireland. Young people from around the world are leading a massive coordinated strike from school to protest against inaction on climate change. It is likely to be one of the largest environmental protests ever.

The Global Climate Strike comes just before countries will gather at the United Nations for the Climate Action Summit on September 23, an event ahead of the UN General Assembly, where countries are supposed to ramp up their ambitions to curb greenhouse gases under the 2015 Paris climate agreement. A second worldwide strike is planned for September 27.

It's going to be a big day for Greta Thunberg and the crowds of youth eco-activists she's inspired since she began missing school on Fridays to protest outside the Swedish Parliament in August 2018. Thousands of Irish students calling on the Government to address climate change last took to the streets at lunchtime on May 24. The biggest event was held at Merrion Square in Dublin, where about 3,000 people protested. Another large protest happened outside Cork City Hall.

It's all inspired by young Thunberg, who first heard about climate change as an eight-year-old, when she remembers feeling shocked by society's inaction. "Why were there no restrictions? Why wasn't it made illegal? To me, that did not add up," she told a TED talk.

During Sweden's hottest summer on record, Thunberg began a solo school strike last August outside her country's parliamentary building in central Stockholm. She refused to go to school until after Sweden's general election on September 9, drawing attention to the climate crisis and her government's lack of response to it. Handing out leaflets that read "I am doing this because you adults are s***ting on my future", Thunberg's protest captured imaginations in Sweden and around the world.

I'm not questioning Thunberg's commitment or that climate change is a real threat to humankind. But adults have a moral obligation to remain adults in relation to children and not be carried away by emotions and revolutionary dreams.

The political solutions to climate change, which Thunberg and her young disciples want more money and attention lavished on, are ineffective and far too expensive to be runners.

Even the Paris Agreement on Climate Change will deliver very little. If every single pledge is fulfilled, the world will breach its 1.5C promise before 2030. New studies published in the AGU journals 'Geophysical Research Letters' and 'Earth's Future' show some of the goals set out in the agreement might be difficult to reach without massive sacrifices.

This is because future climate extremes depend on the policy decisions made by major emitters, and even if major emitters were to strengthen their commitments to reducing emissions, the rest of the world would have to immediately reduce their greenhouse gases to zero to achieve the Paris 2015 goal. This just isn't doable, and switching to using biodegradable nappies on your baby isn't going to make any difference.

Labour strikes work because they deprive an employer of something. The only reason our world functions is because workers show up every day. Workers have leverage, school children don't. Climate strikes achieve nothing.

On Friday, children will miss school, but their schools aren't going to miss them. The students are only depriving themselves, because they're missing a day of learning. And the celebration of Greta Thunberg and the liberal left salivating over striking school children just shows how simplistic and infantilised the debate around climate change has become.

The people who still deny climate change's existence are not telling the truth. Those who say the end of the world is starting a decade or so from now are not either. They're just trying to frighten us with their hysteria. Nuclear fusion is capable of producing enough power to solve our world's energy problem - why aren't we talking about it and investing in it? Nah, it's not cool enough - it's science-y and we don't understand how it works. Bamboo toothbrushes are way more Instagrammable.

The hordes of school children striking tomorrow would be better off going to school and eventually innovating green energy or nuclear fusion to make it so cheap it eventually undercuts fossil fuels and goes a long way to fixing our climate change problems for good.

Jumping on the climate strike bandwagon - and in 2019 we all love a good bandwagon - won't cool down our world. What we really need is an honest, calm and grown-up debate about where we can go from here and whether it's even possible to get global emissions down.

Irish Independent

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