For A Planet They Can Live On: “They’re trying to get the attention of the adults who have let them down over the course of the last 30 years. They have every right to fight for their future.” - James Shaw, Green Co-Leader and Climate Change Minister.
TODAY WEEK (15 March) secondary students across New Zealand will bunk school to protest their elders’ feeble response to climate change. They will not be alone. Teenagers all over the world, most of them too young to vote, will join this Global Climate Strike
It’s a gesture, of course, and easily dismissed as such. But, gestures matter.
Martin Luther nailed his protest note to the doors of the local cathedral – and gave birth to Protestantism. Hone Heke chopped down the flagstaff at Russell – and started a war. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus – and changed America.
In the oft-quoted words of the Taoist philosopher, Lao Tzu: “Every journey begins with a single step.”
More important, perhaps, that the student’s political gesture will be their elders’ political response.
Climate Change Minister and Green Party Co-leader, James Shaw, is unequivocal in his support.
“They’re trying to get the attention of the adults who have let them down over the course of the last 30 years”, the Minister told Q+A’s Corrin Dann. “[T]hey have every right to fight for their future.”
Shaw’s support is certainly not echoed by the Principal of Darfield High School and head of the Secondary Principals Council, James Morris. His response to the proposed protest strikingly symbolises of the adult world’s failure to “get” either the urgency or the scale of anthropogenic global warming.
Confronted with the likelihood of ongoing Climate Strikes, he told TVNZ’s Whena Owen that he and his fellow Canterbury principals were developing a “consistent set of guidelines” with which to “manage” repeated student protest.
It is difficult to imagine an “official” response more numbing in its negativity. The principals’ reaction to the anguished cry of a generation struggling to come to terms with the terrifying realities of Climate Change, is to come up with a plan for “managing” an orderly return to business-as-usual in the nation’s classrooms.
Was it too much to expect anything more from our educational leaders? Weighed down as they are with legal and administrative obligations, was any other response possible?
Such questions lay bare the sheer size of the problem the striking students are attempting to address. The people in charge, their mums and their dads, simply do not understand that they and their children are already enmeshed in the climate change crisis.
There is no “business-as-usual” to return to: no “normal transmission” to be resumed.
“Normal”, from the point of view of the human species, was the Holocene. The whole of recorded human history has occurred in the geological age which, like Goldilocks preferred plate of porridge, was neither too hot, nor too cold, but just right. We are already in the entirely abnormal Anthropocene. For the first time in the planet’s history, its fate is being decided by the behaviour of a single organism – us.
The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change, precisely because it is tasked with achieving the broadest possible scientific consensus on the issue, is one of the more conservative contributors to the climate change debate. Its latest report, delivered just last year, nevertheless gives us just 12 years to dramatically reduce our global carbon emissions, or face global warming of a magnitude far beyond the possibility of human control.
New Zealand’s secondary principals have long conceived of themselves as the status quo’s first line of defence. This has made them bastions of conservatism – and proud to be so. But, to champion the status quo in the face of apocalyptic climate change, they’ll be casting themselves in the role of their pupils’ destroyers.
If New Zealand’s principals are looking for guidelines, then look no further.
Close your schools next Friday. March alongside your students. Speak up not just for their future, but for any kind of future worth having. Tell your pupils’ parents that they should listen to their children – because they are right. The only thing that can save them, and every other complex organism on the face of the planet, is change.
Change without prevarication. Change without reservation. Change without “ifs”, or “buts”, or “maybes”. Change in spite of the resistance thrown up by the purblind fools who led them to this awful turning point. Change as if your lives depended on it. Change because your students’ lives most assuredly do depend upon it.
Change until they are safe.
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 8 March 2019.