On the 15th of March more than 1.4 million young people, according to environmental campaigners, took part in the international school strikes for climate change. The protests were inspired by the now famous 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, who refused to attend school in order to camp outside the Swedish parliament until they met her demands. Riding on this wave of solo protest, school children and young people across an estimated 128 countries have taken to the streets as part of the Fridays for future movement.
Some, like the Australian prime minister Scott Morrison have expressed annoyance, stating that “What we want is more learning in schools and less activism in schools“, a sentiment later echoed by Theresa May. But should we expect anything less from the prime ministers that govern countries which rank among the top ten for emissions per capita? No, of course not, these politicians are wedded to the industries and practices that cause climate breakdown. The youth realise this and they are trying to speak truth to power.
Despite the top news stories frequently published in major newspapers and on major news sites, Brexit will not cause the end of the human race, what will do that is climate breakdown but climate breakdown isn’t just global warming and it isn’t simply about reducing fossil fuel emissions it is a war on multiple fronts. It’s armies include: mass extinction, soil degradation, desertification, global warming, more and stronger hurricanes, sea level rise, an ice-free arctic and huge migrations of climate refugees.
Perhaps, we should take the demands of the school strikers more seriously because they are not the only movement challenging the inactive governments of the world. Multiple indigenous activist groups have exposed the hypocrisy of supposedly liberal politicians like Justin Trudeau and their vested interested (Transcanada pipeline protests).
But climate breakdown isn’t an isolated case, it sits comfortably in a world where fascism seems to be raising its ugly head, privatisation is unrelenting and loneliness plagues many. We have a system that is failing us, a system that needs overhauling. But do we start with the individual, as many have been led to believe? Use less plastic, take less flights, eat less meat? Actually, yes, but that alone won’t solve the existential crisis, when just 90 companies have contributed to 50% of emissions since the industrial revolution, and the world’s richest 1% own 82% of global wealth, the issue is with the system and it is precisely there we should aim our straightest arrow, at capitalism. A system that relies on unlimited growth in a world of finite resources, boom and bust cycles and disproportionate distribution of wealth. The youth that strike are the very same youth that are now discovering and backing socialism over capitalism and no wonder, when productivity has increased rapidly but wages have stagnated and millennials now face worse job prospects than their parents, despite being better trained. It seems that at some point somebody was sold a false dream.
If we have identified the cause as capitalism, the arbiters as inactive and vested politicians, wedded to climate destroying corporations, what then is the cure? Is it socialism, as the youth now seem to favour? or is something new, something more adaptive and relevant to our modern afflictions?
There have been those like Murray Bookchin, who have attempted to build on socialist and anarchist principles , outlining a more democratic, collaborative system, based on ecological concepts, something being enacted now in northern Syria. Others have taken the principles and cultures of their indigenous ancestors and forcibly reclaimed their common land for the people who till it, like las zapatistas. Even one issue movements like the extinction rebellion have a community based ethic and are promoting large democratic citizens assemblies.
However, as the school strike protests have shown, whatever system emerges to combat climate breakdown and emancipate the people from the cage of capitalism, it must be: youth-led (because they will be the ones who inherit the earth), international (because capitalism and climate breakdown recognise no borders), democratic (because all people must participate), and most of all hopeful. It must claim a vision for the planet and the human race, a way to solve the crisis, but also a means by which we, as people, can exist together and achieve a better, greater destiny for humanity
Climate breakdown is a threat and an attack but it is also an opportunity for change, an opportunity to construct a new world. Rosa Luxemburg once gave the choice of socialism or barbarism, today we face the choice of hope or despair, make your choice.