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A reflection on climate strikes

Global Student Climate Strikes 2019

While reading Naomi Klein’s On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal and her description of the global student climate protests I was reminded of the reaction on Twitter of some of the educators and people I follow, which was quite disapproving of the strikes, like the post below:

Naomi Klein articulates very well why students wanted to strike: climate change presents such a pressing and dangerous situation, one that is very likely to be world altering, and that presents the very real possibility that for school age children there may not be a world with jobs and the life we know it in the future. If you know your future is is f****d, what is the point in studying for it? Klein, quoting Thunberg writes:

“Why should we be studying for a future that soon may be no more when no one is doing anything whatsoever to save that future? … What is the point of learning facts….when the most important facts given by the finest science of that same school system clearly means nothing to our politicians and our society?”

Klein (2020) On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal pg11

Teachers like Birbalsingh are focussed on their fight to create solid educational outcomes that they are sometimes not aware of the larger picture. Indeed, we could expect Toby Young, a climate change skeptic to take the view that students shouldn’t be protesting, after all from his position there is no justification for the strikes because climate change isn’t real. However, students striking to try to protect their futures, is just as important and urgent as studying at school to protect those futures. It is a shame that society has let them down to the point where they need to sacrifice their education in order to protest.

Greg Ashman writes along similar lines to Birbalsingh’s views in this post, although at greater length. And while what he writes echoes some of what Klein writes about in her book – the need for climate action to be driven by mass mobilization across societal groups for example – Ashman gets it wrong when he writes:

In this light, British school kids skipping school on a Friday to make vague demands that the government declare a ‘climate emergency’ does not really cut it. It is not like miners or nurses going on strike. It’s not really a ‘strike’ at all because nobody is inconvenienced and nobody loses any money. The only potential losers from a withdrawal of student labour are the students themselves, although this will depend greatly on the quality of the education that they have left behind. accessed 16/11/2020

Yes, the strike is not like a miners strike. Miners damaged their own income at the time of striking. They did this to try to protect their livelihoods. But I disagree with Ashman’s analysis. Students are trying to protect their future livelihoods, when none of the adults around them, who supposedly care about their futures seems to be doing anything about it. Ashman also misses the point that the climate strike is also a strike against free market capitalism (not capitalism itself – just the free market kind). If all students around the world went on strike they would be damaging that system as whole if they do not get educated because there would be a much more limited market to participate in in future. Remember that it is this free market system that is prime driver of climate change.

UK Remembrance Day Strike 2020

In the UK there is a yearly ritual of paying respects to those members of the Armed Forces that have perished in conflict most notably in WWI and WWII.

This year commentators were outraged by an extinction rebellion climate change protest at the Cenotaph. Despite the fact that one of the protestors was an ex-service man, media outlets claimed that this was an “insult” to the fallen.

Firstly, it strikes (no pun intended) me as ironic. While the day is a space for private reflection – members of the armed forces remember colleagues who have lost their lives in recent conflicts, the public uses this day, supposedly, to remember the fallen precisely because they fought for freedom and the rights it entails – like the right to protest.

Remembrance day serves as an opportunity to reflect on freedom, justice, and, so the story goes, by doing so we remember the importance of peace. My father would argue that remembrance day keeps us from fighting in Europe because we remember what a sheer waste of life it was.

Conviently it doesn’t stop us from bombing countries far away from here. We are happy to do that for oil.

Today we seem to have become obsessed with the ritual of remembrance day. But what are we actually remembering?

To me, staging a protest on the day of remembrance seems to actually be a way of actively honoring that sacrifice – you are actively exercising your right that was protected by the sacrifice of others. If you take issue with protests, are you really honoring what the dead died for?

When the protestors are claiming that “climate change means war” they are not making a metaphorical statement. They are highlighting the very real concerns that climate change will drive conflict.

You may argue that it wasn’t appropriate at the event, but what you are really saying is that what is important here is not the principle we are supposed to remember but instead the shallow, banal nationalism, that such events can be seen to support – the glorification of war and the feeding of the narrative that Britain is Great because she is more X, Y and Z than other nations.

As Naomi Klein writes:

“Honoring the dead begins with telling the truth”

Klein (2020) On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal pg255

Climate change will cause more war.

Climate change will cause more suffering.

We are already seeing it in Syria where drought caused the migration of farmers from the rural areas into the cities and sparked the unrest that led to the war and the migrations that have been so bothersome to many in the UK.

Climate change will affect geopolitics and could lead to more international tensions and conflicts.

I can think of no better way to honor the dead than trying to make society aware of its own hypocrisy. We are happy to remember the sacrifice that our heroes make but unwilling to face up to the problems our international actions cause both today and yesterday.

Please share your thoughts..

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