My son and I bumped into the world of climate change protesters yesterday. We had been down to Weston-super-Mare.
He told me about Greta Thunberg’s planned gig at Bristol as we boarded our train, somewhere in South Wales. That is as it should be. He is the right age to be really switched on to this stuff, and I wondered if this meant he wanted to go there instead of Weston.
But no. Not a bit of it. He wanted to carry out the plan, No ‘order, re-order, disorder’ for him. Maintenance of aim was his watchword. So we went to Weston, Which didn’t fail to disappoint. I mean it was an English seaside town in winter.
We didn’t stay long but despite being cold and wet my son was happy and getting happier as we rolled north and we chatted about trains and geography – the Somerset levels and raised embanked rivers. At Bristol his mood changed. At Temple Meads, our coach filled with young people, teenagers, probably little older him but loud, excited and no doubt to him quite scary.
They weren’t threatening or aggressive. They were just hyped up from bunking/twagging/skiving off school for the day with the aid of some at least of their parents. They weren’t chatting about carbon capture or building plastic recycling plants in the UK instead of foisting the problem onto African and Asian countries. They were other people’s problems. If they thought anything about it, they had done their bit with their day out in the rain. And good for them.
The kids on the train were typical privileged, self absorbed middle class teenagers. Entitled and inconsiderate of everyone else, blocking aisles, noisy and raucous, banging into everybody with their back packs, kneeling up, getting mud all over the seats others have to use (and clean – resource issues anyone?) and waving banners in people’s faces as they tried to stow them.
My son was very quiet for the rest of the journey and not happy about the invasion of the last bit of his day out. Now I realise his less than enthusiastic response stems largely from his ASD but he is not a great supporter of the protest movement anyway and this is I have to confess is probably down to me.
I heartily approve of Greta Thunberg’s desire to change things regarding our attitude to and interaction with the environment. At her age I wanted changes in our attitude to the environment. I still do. But repeatedly castigating everyone over 18 years old for being the problem is wildly missing the point and massively counter-productive to her cause.
I understand her fear and exasperation with those in power. And therein lies the problem. To her and no doubt all those kids in the train, ‘Those in power’ in their immediate experience means parents, teachers, police, as no doubt it did to me when I was their age. People older than them are an amorphous, unstructured group. But as I have grown older my generation has differentiated itself into those grabbing real, serious power and those of us who have not.
The problem is not a generational related one but a power one.
Greta Thunberg has said many times, as in this quote from her publicity stunt with The 1975: ‘We have to acknowledge that the older generations have failed.’
My generation didn’t want to destroy our world or our children’s life chances. In the early 1970s I read a book called ‘The Doomsday Book’ by Gordon Rattray Taylor. It outlined many of the things that were going wrong with our stewardship of the planet: overcrowding in cities and the societal and mental health problems resulting from this, over exploitation of natural resources, destruction of the ozone layer and climate change.
That we didn’t manage to stop a massive industrial surge towards over exploitation of resources is more complicated than generational indifference. It’s about economics and who controls economic power.
Greta Thunberg is to be applauded, but everyone should remember that she is being listened to, not because she is 17 and opinionated and enthusiastic, we all are at 17. She is being given a platform because sufficient numbers in earlier generations recognised the problems she is talking about, made enough noise, did enough research, and kept putting it out there for her generation to try and challenge those in power; political and financial.
Greta, you may not be standing on the shoulders of giants, but there are a lot of people who went before you. My generation loves yours – we made it – we really should be fighting this thing together.
(Oh and keep the muddy feet off the seats and back pack outs of people’s faces!)