24 May 2019

Time to Let the Kids Lead - and Follow Them!

Image by Goran Horvat from Pixabay
By Claire Eamer

In 2001, I went to work for the Northern Climate ExChange at Yukon College in Whitehorse. I was the Yukon coordinator of the now-defunct Canadian Climate Impacts and Adaptation Research Network (C-CIARN). My job was to help climate change researchers communicate and work with each other across disciplines and geographic barriers.

(Most scientists are not too good at talking to scientists in other fields, let alone to people outside science. That helps keep us science writers in business!)

Even then, almost two decades ago, the seriousness of a warming climate was far from a hard sell in the North. People were already seeing and feeling the changes:
  • earlier and longer forest fire seasons, 
  • accelerated permafrost melt, 
  • shorter ice seasons and weaker ice, and
  • changes in the mix of animals and plants. 
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
That all sounds a bit removed from most people's daily lives, doesn't it? But those changes have impacts. They mean:
  • smoke filling the air and fire threatening people's homes and livelihoods, 
  • crumbling highways and eroding coasts and riverbanks, 
  • limited and more dangerous winter travel, and
  • diminished supplies of country foods.
Beneath the grass along the muddy northern coast of Alaska and the Yukon is ice,
plenty of it. It's called ice-rich permafrost, but it's not so permanent any more.
And as the warming climate eats away at the ice, it eats away at the land as well.
Image from U.S. Geological Survey's Alaska Science Center, via NASA
However, convincing people and, especially, governments to take serious action is still a hard sell. Harder than I hoped it would be, all those years ago.

We tend to think we can make a few small changes, and eventually everything will be fine. Right? But a few small changes won't do it. We need to feel the emergency strongly enough to make big changes, to rethink how we live on the planet.

The thing that gives me hope these days is the kids. They're taking the climate emergency seriously. It began with young people taking their governments to court to force them to act. Then came Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg and her months'-long lonely vigil in front of the Swedish parliament, on school-strike for climate action. 
In Zagreb, the kids came out in force on May 3,
and adults joined them.
Image by Goran Horvat from Pixabay

Well, she's lonely no more. On May 3, kids all around the world joined her in walking out of school and into the streets, demonstrating to their elders and their governments that their future is under threat -- and the threat can no longer be ignored. Even on my little island, population barely scraping past 4,000 and a single elementary school, the kids took action. Every Grade 7 student, the oldest kids in the school, marched out of school and down the road to the village centre to show their support. Every. Single. One.

(That's the sort of moment that makes me proud to write for kids!)

Image by Kevin Snyman from Pixabay
That was just one day. The movement is building. Kids are striking and picketing in many parts of the world. More marches have been held. More will be held. They're learning how to do it and why it's important.

But can kids make enough of a difference? You bet they can! Greta Thunberg started with her parents. She convinced them there was a climate emergency, and now she's convincing the world.

A recent study in the United States shows that she's not alone. Researchers from North Carolina State University found that kids who learned about climate change could influence their parents, even the most conservative ones.

So, kids -- talk to your parents, and to everyone else, whether they want to listen or not. And parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, adults of all sorts -- listen to the kids! It's their world that's in danger. And they're worth listening to. You might even want to give them a hand.

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