There’s nothing wrong with protest. It serves a valuable purpose. But I suspect I’m not alone in thinking that Greta Thunberg leading tens of thousands of mostly young people in singing, “You can shove your climate crisis up your A**e” is not very helpful.
If we attempt to understand the protest it seems the general idea is that the “establishment” otherwise known as the UN, world governments, the scientific community, big business et al are not moving fast enough to save the planet. That the COP26 process is repeating the previous twenty five COP meetings which manifestly did nothing to achieve measurable outcomes of emissions or sustainability.
Naturally I (and I suspect everyone of a certain age) has huge sympathy with the youth movement. I have children, grandchildren and a great grandchild. I know the future outlook is incredibly scary. But experience tells us that blindly protesting against the establishment has never been a successful strategy. The fact is most of the world still marches to a democratic, capitalist model and making change is always going to be slow. Equally I have great sympathy with the idea that COP26 participants will make some level of commitment, but that a) the commitments are almost certainly going to undershoot the level that will ensure the planet keeps the global temperature rise at or below 1.5 degrees, and b) even those inevitably less than inspiring commitments will not be met.
The commitments made in 2015 were in the most part completely ignored. Yes there’s a much greater understanding of the problem now, but we know all the stakeholders are constrained by their existing governance models. While most climate deniers have gone quiet, the lobbyists haven’t gone away, nor the legacy industries, nor all the competing demands for priority action, funding and resources.
The protesters want instant action. In the real world this isn’t going to happen. I suggest that the protesters, particularly school children find ways in each of their own countries, to maintain pressure on their governments by targeting their protests in a manner that keeps the topic in the public eye in a manner that brings the broader population along with them.
For example, there has been the hugely successful school protest since 2018. I suggest school children alter their protests to focus on getting concrete action in the very short term. How about refusing to go to school by car; requiring their own school and local authority to support safe travel to school by bus, by bike by walking. And as soon as this protest gets traction, require commitment to a deadline to introduce electric buses. This action could also be applied to travel to sports and other non-school activities.
Another example might be for again school children to create a scorecard for their local authority on climate actions and to publicise commitments and deliveries.
And most young people have parents and grandparents. We might hope that young people would be agitating amongst their family group which of course will comprise of members of all manner of professions, occupations, opportunities for influence. I would hope that all of these protesters could show us their own and their families’ plans for sustainability. It would be helpful if schools introduced climate relevant topics on the syllabus.
I fully expect the outcomes of COP26 to be underwhelming. But this shouldn’t be a moment for despair. It should be a time for the entire planet to put its shoulder to the wheel. And young people everywhere are intimately involved in communities worldwide and are in a perfect position to exert influence immediately. Maybe this is harder work, and probably less fun than simply protesting general negativity against amorphous government bodies or apparently clueless political leaders. But as we have shown in the last two pandemic years, concerted individual action is incredibly powerful. Most of us are members of wider family groups. It’s in our own interest to propagate positive thinking from the ground up. We know most of our politicians are ineffectual, assailed on all sides by competing influences and lobbyists. But if there’s a groundswell of popular opinion that says, we have to do this, and fast, our so called leaders might just do the right thing!