How exhausting it is to have the hopes of so many elders resting on your young shoulders. Not to mention terrifying.
Kids walked out of their schools by the thousands on Friday morning, crowding City Hall Plaza for Boston’s contribution to global youth climate strikes. Those too young to vote — and there were plenty of them — were doing the only thing they could: trying to make enough noise to force more so-called grown-ups to recognize the urgency of an environmental crisis too many still fail to comprehend.
And the kids I spoke to weren’t happy about it. They’re angry that the denial and inaction of previous generations put them in this position, where it’s on them to bring about the massive changes that would blunt the worst impacts of climate change. And they’re annoyed that those who have finally woken up look to them to feel hope.
They are not here for your gauzy optimism, thank you very much. They’re too busy bracing for disaster to give their failed forebears solace.
“Everyone always says kids are the future,” said Mah Bijou Camara, 15. “But what future? People tell us, ‘Oh, stay a kid.’ Well, we can’t stay a kid if you’re not being adults.”
Camara stood with a half-dozen friends from Boston Latin Academy. Around them, groups broke into chants and danced to bouncy music. For these girls, the strike wasn’t some generational fad or social media phenomenon.
They are not naive, or idealistic. They’re terrified, and mad as hell.
“You left us with something that’s really broken, and now we have to fix it,” said Brianna Falemu-Lawrence, 13. “You lived out your life already. We gotta go through this while you’re over there chillin’ in retirement.”
Greta Thunberg, the Swedish environmental activist, has helped mobilize young protesters because she gets them: She bluntly refuses to be patronized, or to salve others’ guilt. Instead, she demands action.
“Please save your praise. We don’t want it,” the 16-year-old told US senators on Tuesday. “Don’t invite us here to just tell us how inspiring we are without actually doing anything about it, because it doesn’t lead to anything.”
Her generation and those that come after it will confront the worst consequences of climate change, though its impacts are plenty bad already. Those who live in cities, like the Latin Academy students, will feel them particularly acutely, as rising temperatures and seas bring more intense consequences for housing and health.
They feel grief, and frustration. The inaction against which they rail is a political problem — “We got this dude up here saying climate change doesn’t exist,” Falemu-Lawrence said, referring to the president — but many of them won’t be able to vote for years. So they’re pushing family members to cast ballots with their future in mind.
“I told my aunt I’d never cook for her again if she didn’t vote,” Falemu-Lawrence said.
Spend enough time talking to these kids, and it’s clear that we’ve saddled them with more than extreme weather and lower crop yields. They live with an existential dread that colors everything.
They should be looking forward to college, careers, families. How do they do that, they demanded, when the future looks so bleak?
“Every day we feel this pressure, to get our lives together, ‘You have to go to college,’ ” Camara said. “Why am I going to college when there’s no certainty? Where is the certainty I will even get to your age? How will I bring children into this world?”
It’s the kind of talk one expects from kids in times of war, or of economic calamity. How, with this country’s riches and relative peace, could we allow our children to come to this?
It will take a miracle to head off the most severe consequences of climate change. It will be even harder to give back what we’ve taken from our kids.