A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be in the packed-out Friends House in Euston for a Guardian Live event with Greta Thunberg, Anna Taylor and Caroline Lucas. Outside across the city, the Extinction Rebellion take-over week was in full swing, and many who made it to the event came bearing the hallmarks of dedicated campers. The queue was huge, the excitement was palpable. As the daughter of a Czech dissident, it felt like the times I waited to hear Havel. Here were some real heros of the movement/moment about to speak.
I have never had goosebumps as the speakers walked onto stage before. There was a standing ovation, before any of them had uttered a word, and it was a very moving moment to witness – and well earned.
After an intro from some teen quakers, Greta began with her customary quiet matter-of-fact delivery, saying she has been shocked by the numbers of school strikers across the globe, and there were calls of “can’t hear!”, “give her a mic” from across the gallery.
Here are a few bits which stood out for me from what was said (in no particular order, and very glossed over – if you want to hear the actual words, see the video below – I think it is well worth it…):
Caroline Lucas set the scene and delivered rousing calls to action couple with wisdom borne of her longterm involvement in the green movement.
- We are here to change the definition of what is politically possible so it becomes the scientifically necessary
- A key factor brought to the table by the youth strikes is their particular moral authority (i.e. our future, your actions)
- Lessons from the past? How we maintain the movement and facilitate longevity and inclusivity – there is a crucial need for support to avoid burn out, and those not able to stike can play an important support role
- Viscious circle of people thinking if it were really serious, the government would act; and the government thinking that if people are not on the streets, they don’t need to do something about it
- We lack the political will; we need stikes on the ‘outside’ (of Westminster), but we need the right politicians on the inside too – and for that, we need the voting system to change
- But even more important is the psychology of why we don’t act, why we don’t feel things – if we really sit and allow ourselves to feel, it is huge
- There isn’t forever to get this right… here Caroline referred to the film ‘Age of Stupid’, made by in 2009 by Franny Armstrong (who was in the audience and quite rightly received her own applause at the end of the event), and the spinetingling last words of the character portrayed by Pete Postlethwaite in the film, a lonely human looking back on a devastated planet of the future: “why is it that we didn’t act when we still had the time?” [at this point I shed a tear, for a number of reasons: Pete Poselthwaite is no longer alive, having died of cancer shortly after the film was made; I did a tiny bit of work on that film with Franny (TINY), and wanted it to be seen and heard by everyone back then, and now I feel like people are starting to hear…; and it is TEN YEARS since it was made. TEN YEARS to get to here. Tick tock…]
- Tear-jerker moment number 2 came when a little girl stood up in the audience and asked over a roving microphone if it was important to watch nature documentaries, Caroline offered the winning line,
“We Won’t protect what we don’t love,
and we can’t love what we don’t know.”
- … so, watch those nature documentaries (which need to be more honest and upfront about the destruction and danger), and we need fuller nature education at school
- Curriculum change is a slow process; she is part of a group working on it. Primary school education has more space for flexibility, but secondary education is much narrower and so harder to find space for climate ed…
- Asked if there is the money we need to make the changes we need, she said: if we can bail out the banks…
Anna Taylor is a youth activist and part of the UK Student Climate Network. I scribbled down less of what she said, and apologies to her, and this is no reflection of the job she did at the event and is doing more widely. She is an impressive woman in her own right – follow her on twitter here.
- She said the burden on youth is a heavy one, as it is their future we’re talking about
- We need system change and a Green New Deal; we need to work together, but we also need to do all we can do as individuals
- She also emphasised the power and role of nature documentaries in allowing us to see the beauty of our world – and the role of the media in our general desensitisation to climate impacts
- She highlighted the public and private mismatch between support for strikes within school communities, with teachers often privately supportive, but the overall official message one of disapproval or reluctant permission
On to Greta. She has become one of those individuals who only need a first name, like Madonna, Adele, Bono. Arguably the star this show, and very special to see in person, as she is small, quiet and ever-so mighty. Bits which stood out:
- She was asked to comment on voting age and capitalism, and to both questions she refused to give a personal opinion, saying she was here not to come up with her own demands on ins and outs, but simply to ask people to listen to the scientists (e.g. “saying capitalism is bad is not my place”). She was impressive in her firm refusal to be drawn on any topic she did not want to talk about. She was there to talk about one thing, and one thing she knows about, and her clarity of message and lack of fear of sticking to her guns is something we could all learn from.
- She refuses the title of leader of the youth strike movement – “I am not a leader, I am a part. Everyone speaks for themselves”
- Awareness is key, and the reason for her civil disobedience
- She does not believe people are evil, just misinformed and unaware. Thinking people are aware is a dangerous misconception. She drew attention to the role of the media in this, placing football games on front pages and articles about climate impacts out-of-sight – this clearly communicates an incorrect relative level of importance to readers and allows them to (or makes them, perhaps more actively) think climate stuff is not as bad as all that…
- When questioned by EJ, one of the Oxford Youth Strike 4 Climate group, 17 and on the autism spectrum herself like Greta, about autism and being an activist, Greta expressed her opinion that it allows her to see things more black and white. to more rumbles of laughter, she said:
“You can’t be a little bit sustainable. You are or you aren’t”
- Regarding people not being evil but simply misinformed, a long (and important) question was put forward regarding those individuals who know the facts and have the information, but chose to spread greenwash and fake news, and undermine work to fight climate change. Greta’s answer was short and ever-so sweet:
Zoe Williams: “So Greta, how do you deal with climate deniers?”
Greta: “I don’t.”
- What can other non-strikers do to support? “Countless things.”
- Can we achieve our goal in time? Greta: “Yes, we can.”
Summary of a few key take-home messages from the event:
Watch the whole event here:
The next #YouthStike4Climate is on May 24th 2019. Full event information here: https://www.facebook.com/events/470005613803927/
For adults wanting to support the strikers, check this out: Oxford Aults Support the Climate Strike, led by Parents For Future Oxford https://www.facebook.com/events/2286297694954665/
Watch the brand new Age of Stupid mini-sequel here: https://www.spannerfilms.net/films/ageofstupid