It’s humbling to see the determination with which young people are demanding action on climate change. The School Strike 4 Climate movement, taken up by school children right across the planet, rightfully points out that they will be the most impacted by climate change, but the least able to make the changes required to fix it.
On March the 15th school children across the country intend to stop studying for 2 hours and protested inaction on climate change. This is a cause that inspired a number of our Anglican Schools. As 15 year old Swedish school pupil Greta Thunberg said to the United Nations; “some say I should be in school. [but] what is the point in learning facts when the most important facts given by our finest scientists are ignored by our politicians.” Whether the facts are being ignored or not, this movement shows our young people are feeling let down. Not just by our elected leaders, but by all of us for how slow we have been to act.
Public lament has always been part of the life of the church. And lament may be the best place to start in response to young children calling us out on an issue that is already seriously impacting our Pacific neighbours. In this movement, truth is being spoken to power from the mouths of our rangatahi.
But lament is not a good place to stay. Action is necessary. Perhaps, as some have said, the issues are more complicated than our children have appreciated. Perhaps the action required is more nuanced. Even if that is true, action is no less urgent. In Greta’s words again, “I don’t want you to be hopeful, I want you to panic…. then I want you to act.” There is a rich vein in our Christian heritage of acting at some cost to ourselves for the sake of others. That is what we must do now.
There was a time when environmental concerns and social issues were thought of as separate issues. That is no longer the case. Our families, our communities, and the lives of our neighbours are all at risk. This planet is the only place we have to live, and our window of opportunity to act is closing fast.
Last year the Government promised us a UK-style climate law, that would set us on a pathway to carbon neutrality by 2050. But as the negotiations drag on, concern is growing among those of us who submitted to the Our Climate Your Say consultation, that the strength of the Bill will be compromised, or that it won’t have the support of all parties. It is crucial that we get a strong, effective law, and crucial that it is supported across the political spectrum.
With this in mind, there are two characteristics that our Members of Parliament must embody when considering our approach to the climate crisis. And they are characteristics exhibited by our young people in the Schools Strike 4 Climate movement: compassion and courage.
Compassion and courage are needed to combat fear. Fear of change, and fear of uncertainty.
This fear lives in all of us, but particularly those who feel that action on climate change poses a threat to their livelihood or way of life. The transition to a carbon neutral future must be fair and just. It must happen in a way that vulnerable communities, as well as workers in twilight industries, are supported. But it still must happen.
We must have courage to be bold and decisive in our actions. The Zero Carbon Bill must reflect the urgency and seriousness of the climate crisis, and it must not back down from addressing the hard issues such as methane emissions from agriculture.
In response to this student-led movement, lament and action informed by compassion and courage is appropriate. For our politicians here in New Zealand, that may start with the Zero Carbon Bill. But for all of us, and the organisations of which we are a part, it is time to heed our children and act.