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On climate protests and school strikes

The school strikes and climate protests in the past ten days have kicked off predictable responses from the media and commentators; ranging from ‘good on ya’ to ‘go back to school’. Originating with a single Swedish school girl, what cannot be denied is that her protest struck a chord and has spread in meme worthy fashion across age groups, geographic boundaries, political and social classes. A conversation has been started, so what should the response be? Close it down or continue in a reasoned way?

A friend who teaches describes it as a classic teachable moment. It’s possible that the protest is a fad, but I suspect not. I think there is a genuine concern (as there should be) that insufficient action from the ‘grown ups’ will leave our planet as a barely lovable remnant of its former self. The balance of evidence overwhelmingly supports the existence of man made climate and in any case, who wants to take the risk?

It seems to me that a proper response is first of all to take the protest seriously, to understand the concerns and use it as a starting point in a much larger dialogue; whether this happens in schools or in wider society. It provides a platform to discuss what steps have been taken so far, not just in a political sphere, but by engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs. It provides a perfect opportunity to talk about the challenges that will be inevitably faced by 15-20 year olds, but also the role they’ll play in providing a solution. Todays’ twenty year old will be 50 by the time the real extent of the damage begins to unfold. We’ll need the best minds with the best skills to mitigate the damage that’s been done.

To my mind, the worst possible thing would be to close down the debate. There’s a reasonable chance that a lot of the current protesters won’t stay engaged in the topic, but that’s bad thing, not a good thing. Talking about the ideas and technology that is already in development, from electric car ‘skateboards‘ to carbon capture, plants that return carbon to the soil, high altitude kites that generate electricity; this is an amazing opportunity to fire young minds with an optimistic outlook on the future, not one filled with doom and gloom. And the ideas are not just limited to the field of technology and science. In the US, proponents of a Green New Deal are making their voices heard and young politicians like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez are a signal that times are changing.

There is an energy and enthusiasm around these protests that needs to be harnessed in a productive way; channelled into something that can live beyond a single day of protest into real action and the possibility of positive change.

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