So far it’s been the hottest summer ever recorded — June was the hottest June, and July was the hottest month ever. France, Germany, Britain, Belgium, and the Netherlands had their hottest days of all time, joining countries from Cuba to Vietnam and Togo to the Reunion Islands.
This is dangerous for two reasons.
One, it’s destroying the planet.
And two, it’s becoming so common that people may lose hope or tune out — the news can be almost as sapping as the heat. But that apathy would come at just the wrong moment. The price of renewable energy hit a record low last month, when a Portuguese power auction produced the cheapest electricity in history. Given the political will, we could quickly make huge strides in combatting climate change.
That’s why we should be grateful to some of the youngest activists on the planet, people who refuse to become inured to business as usual, who won’t give up. The most famous of them, Greta Thunberg, is on a sailboat for a journey to the United States, where she’ll address the UN’s climate summit in September. But she’s far from alone. Thanks to the organization Fridays for Future, you can find Greta equivalents from Peru to Pensacola to Prague, from Ulan Bator to the gates of the UN.
Thunberg began her “school strike for the climate’’ a year ago, arguing that if the world’s adults weren’t willing to prepare the planet for her generation, they were forfeiting their right to demand that her generation spend their youth preparing for their future. Kids across the planet saw the logic — the biggest days of action have seen 1.4 million students out of the classroom and on the streets.
But after a year, they’ve done something new — they’ve asked adults to join them. On Sept. 20, there will be the first all-ages climate strike (it will be Sept. 27 in some countries). People will walk off their jobs at some point during the day — some will plant trees, others will join protests. The targets will be as diverse as the geography: In different parts of the planet, people will be sitting down in front of pipelines; demanding that their institutions divest fossil fuel stocks; urging UN nations to increase their carbon-cutting commitments; calling for carbon taxes; insisting on a Green New Deal. Athletes have pledged to join in, as have chefs and actors and politicians. Unions and even some businesses have said they’ll take part. It’s likely that the Global Climate Strike will mark the largest day of climate protest in the planet’s history.
Will a single strike solve the climate crisis? Of course not. The students have shown persistence, and the adults will need to do the same. But the September strike will demonstrate two invaluable principles.
The first is that solving the climate crisis will involve disrupting business as usual. Even amid the greatest physical crisis human civilization has ever faced, we mostly get up each morning and do the same things we did the day before. There’s nothing to indicate we’re in an emergency, an emergency that grows deeper as each month passes. Adults should consider joining this walkout as a statement that they’re committed to disruptive, transformative change.
The second principle is that elders need to act like elders. On what kind of world do we expect 15-year-olds to tackle our biggest problems by themselves? The climate crisis represents an assault on justice (those who have done the least to cause it suffer the most) but also an assault on the future, a future that some have a larger share in simply because they’ll be alive longer. For the rest of us — those who will die before climate change reaches its burning zenith — the strike is a chance to show that our theoretical affection for our children and their children is sincere.
There’s no guarantee that we can still solve the climate problem. One can be excused for despairing, but not for walking away. Especially at the most desperate moments, human solidarity is required. If a kid says help, you help.
Bill McKibben is cofounder of the global climate campaign 350.org and a member of the environmental studies faculty at Middlebury College.