Did I cry at inspirational eight year olds leading a chant at the climate strike yesterday? Yes. Yes I did.
Unfortunately, my workplace was not quite up for a mass employee walkout (damn corporations) but I did spend a good hour or so at the protest across the middle of the day. Ideally, I would have stayed longer, but it felt like marching and chanting for an hour was better than nothing.
This was a very wholesome protest. The global climate strike was borne from the Fridays for Future movement, which was started just over a year ago by Greta Thunberg, where schoolchildren around the world strike from school on Fridays to protest the lack of climate action. This means that children – many as young as six and seven – have always been the centre of this movement and they were out in force at Millbank yesterday. It was tremendously moving to see the scores of families walking together, with toddlers holding signs and cheering with their parents. A group of eight year olds stood on the barrier outside Parliament, leading the protest in a chant of: “What do we want?” “Climate justice!” “When do we want it?” “Now!”
Even though all protests are ultimately multigenerational – Brexit has huge implications for the entire century’s politics and women’s marches are about creating a better world for the women (and people of all genders) of tomorrow – there is something about climate change that makes it feel even more centred on the future we are creating for the next generations, and for ourselves. Many people my age now are statistically likely to see 2100, a point at which many of the painful effects of our changing planet will have made themselves known. Anxiety over the future of our species is now a regular topic of conversation and many young people are drastically changing their future plans given what we know about what the world may well be like in forty years time. It matters to us not just for ourselves, but for the future iterations of us who will inherit a toxic planet as their only home.
Of course, the climate protests yesterday were global, and it felt similarly emotional to see the photos and videos from hundreds of cities around the world and realise that this is a movement that is truly gaining international traction. A year ago, it was just Greta Thunberg on the steps of Sweden’s government building. Now, there were millions upon millions of people from almost all the world’s countries marching and chanting together. This is history being made! It feels, in a weird way, like a privilege to be a part of it.
You know that my thoughts on climate change are varied, and that I don’t think many of the popular conversations around the climate crisis capture much of the nuance. I don’t think climate change is as simple to address as many people believe. But it felt good to be surrounded by hope, by the belief that these aims are achievable, because often, avoiding catastrophic warming feels hopeless. That’s what I have loved most about protesting so much this year: that feeling of being among friends, and of speaking with one voice about something that matters.
My more eclectic thoughts revolved around the absurdity of this whole dilemma. I imagined zooming out, way out, as if I was looking down on the Earth from space, watching these little beings protest inside the greenhouse. Given that it is the planet and the climate that will throw us devastating hurricanes, rising sea levels and suffocating wildfires, it is odd that both the culprits and the victims are us. The planet is just another conduit for human-to-human suffering, just another deadly way for greed to manifest. I imagined seeing these groups from above, protesting inside our warming world against other people trapped in the greenhouse too. It’s almost laughable that, as the universe goes on, we are just fighting ourselves to death on this little planet. For the people who resent climate change and feel like the Earth is conspiring against us, it must be sobering to realise that is just us against us. We draw a million divisions between different groups of human beings only to be trapped in the same toxic bubble in the end. It’s bizarre. Humanity is… complicated, to say the least.
So yes, it was emotional. It was joyful to see young people standing up for their beliefs, but also sad that they need to at all. It feels special to be part of this moment in history, and to know as the movement grows I am one of the millions of ants marching alongside, but it’s also scary because it might not work. When I think about how much existential guilt over humanity’s future has occupied my mind this year, I feel deflated. When I think about how we are just the next point on the endless continuum, I feel better. When I see parents fighting for their children’s safe futures, I see both the love and the despair. I suppose that a sea of contradictions is what to expect from a species that can both destroy and protect the planet at once. Regardless, yesterday’s climate strike was the biggest sign yet of a people trying to save themselves. I cried. And I smiled.