I’m a millennial but sometimes I feel like I’m still sitting at the kid’s table. Here’s a typical conversation with the “adults” in the room:
Me: Climate change is serious. We need to act fast.
|"Adult who understands how the real world works": Shrug
Me: This is the defining issue of our time and we will be living with the consequences for generations.
"Adult who understands how the real world works": Condescending smile
Me: The climate scientists are telling us that it’s much worse than previously predicted and that unless we make tough decisions to bring emissions down in a hurry, we will bring about terrible suffering and devastation.
"Adult who understands how the real world” works": Shrug “You worry too much.” Condescending smile as they turn to conversations about post-Covid travel plans and how their stocks are performing.
These types of conversations happen both in person and online. You post an article about a study by a group of leading scientists on the severity of climate change, and your Facebook friends respond with tongue-in-cheek advice about preparing for the apocalypse, upbeat homilies about how life is good if we just live, laugh, love a little more, or trite comments meant to deflect and disarm.
And it isn’t only individuals who are relegated to the children’s table. Invariably any youth climate action initiative is either given a pat on the head by the big people as if they deserve a gold star for printing their name correctly, or they are scolded for using silly excuses to miss class. Either way, they are ultimately ignored. Greta Thunberg has had remarkable success drawing attention to the crisis, but as the unofficial leader of the youth climate activist movement, she also has been repeatedly told that she should let the adults worry about adult problems, and in an infamous Tweet (which is no long available for viewing) one leader told her to chill and to “go to a good old fashioned movie with a friend!”
The Fridays For Future movement has been criticized for encouraging students to miss school time. Climate activists in general have been criticized for causing eco-anxiety among children and youth. This has the effect of shutting down conversations before they get started because who wants to be accused of scaring the children?
And if youth aren’t being casually and informally shuffled aside, they are being legally and officially hushed. In October of 2020 the federal court of Canada ruled against a group of youth who were looking to hold the government accountable for a lack of action on climate change. In dismissing the youth climate case, the court explained that it “cannot circumvent its constitutional boundaries … no matter how critical climate change is and will be to Canadians’ health and well-being.” Let that sink in. No matter how bad things are likely to get for future generations of Canadians, the current court system cannot do anything about it. If only the laws of physics were likewise subject to the Canadian constitutional boundaries.
So on the topic of climate change, the message is “See no evil, hear no evil, and above all, speak no evil.”
The problem is that no amount of ignoring the problem will slow climate change. There is no way to lightly joke our way out of this. If climate change is not an appropriate topic for polite conversation, then we need to stop having polite conversation. Solutions arise from confronting the problem, not from ignoring it. Politicians and industry leaders aren’t doing nearly enough and they need to hear us say this at every turn. Politicians don’t lead; they put their ears to the ground and listen for on-coming trains on which they can hop aboard.
A popular buzzword these days when political and industry leaders are discussing issues of import is “stakeholders”. They use this word to refer to the people who stand to gain or lose the most from changes in policies and regulations. When it comes to climate change and environmental degradation, the biggest stakeholders are youth. They have the most to gain and lose from the climate change and environmental policies politicians and industry adopt today. They should have the most to say - not the least. Unfortunately, many of the older adults in the room don’t see it this way. So if you’re looking for a serious, enlightening and constructive conversation about climate change or the loss of biodiversity, you might have to sit at the kid’s table.