I saw them first early on Friday morning at my local suburban station. They stood out. They didn’t look like regular commuters. They were young – 15 or 16, why weren’t they at school? They greeted each other warmly. In a place of formal morning nods, this was odd. And they looked happy, and excited. What was WRONG with them?!
Then I noticed the signs. The handmade clumsy and colourful signs have become a recognisable calling card. There was one with the ubiquitous ‘There Is No Planet B’ phrase, a few others about dinosaurs and the future. My favourite had an image of a Dr Seuss character on it. It read ‘The Lorax speaks for the trees. The Lorax says fuck you’. I was oddly moved by it, by that mixture of the joy and childhood innocence that so many of these young climate protesters are just a hop away from, married with a fierce, rude, urgent anger.
When I got to Glasgow Central station, I saw many more of them, gathering, laughing, readying – kids stuffing school ties and blazers into bags, heading out. This was impressive. I remember when I was their age I also went to the big smoke and stuffed a blazer and a tie into a bag. But that was to try and get into a pub, not march to change the world!
I have been one of those people who was not 100 per cent behind the climate action events. I understood the need to do something. The science is inarguable. We’re doing terrible things to the planet. Huge behavioural change is needed.
In total, more than 92,000 people have sold The Big Issue since 1991 to help themselves work their way out of poverty – more than could fit into Wembley Stadium.
However, I also felt that there was a disconnect around the action and message. Taking over the streets in climate strikes and climate-related interventions didn’t always get the message through. It prevented people getting to work, it prevented people who may have been sympathetic from going about their daily lives; it antagonised. It felt like a class issue – and the working class were not at the table. There was also a question around technologies. A mobile phone, the device every young climate activist owns, causes widescale environmental impact in the mining of materials, in its manufacture, transport and disposal. How could this be reconciled with the agenda and aims?
Then I realised on Friday I was an idiot. All I’d been doing was saying but , but, but… I thought I was being rational and balanced and clear-sighted. I was wrong.
Those kids, and they are kids, will sort this. They’re smart. They know the issues better than you and me (maybe not better than you). They’ll find a way to make sure that energy is cleaner. They’ll make sure new technologies don’t rape the planet to deliver apps to pockets. They’ll vote with their wallets. They understand the issues and already – ALREADY at 14 and 15 and 16 – they are mobilising.
When ambivalent older people carp from the sidelines that it’s just a few nice kids marching and it won’t really make a difference they won’t have me among them.
They’re smart. They know the issues better than you and me
I shall point to Glasgow and Manchester and London and Abuja and Dhaka and Jakarta and that brave man on his own in Moscow and we will see that a change is coming. It’s not being led by you and me, brother and sister, we’ve got to stand aside on this one.
Let them in. Let them have the keys. Those kids will save us all.
Paul McNamee is editor of The Big Issue