Dozens of students from schools including McCaskey High School, Hempfield High School and Stone Independent School left class Friday to participate in a noon demonstration in Lancaster’s Penn Square calling for climate action. Teens around the globe strike regularly on Fridays for climate action, but this one capped a week of international climate strikes. A larger rally organized by Sunrise Movement Lancaster — a youth climate action group — was held later Friday afternoon in downtown’s Binns Park.
There’s something about teenagers and climate change that seems to engender get-off-my-lawn grumpiness in some adults.
Last week, some grown-ups who should know better mocked Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teen who made an impassioned pitch at the United Nations for urgent action to address global warming. “For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal-clear,” she said. “How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you're doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight.”
Her speech was met with cheers from other young people and climate experts, but anger and derision from some.
In a clever riposte to the critics, an Australian comedian created a video featuring “The Greta Thunberg Helpline” to help those who get “irrationally angry at a Swedish girl who wants to save the planet.”
There were lots of snarky comments, too, on the LNP/LancasterOnline Facebook page about Friday’s student walkout. Here are just a few:
— “I agree with them. Let’s start by turning off the A/C in their classrooms and maybe we can save some energy by not letting them charge their cellphones for a week.”
—“Maybe they should stay in school and learn something!”
— “16-year-olds demanding stuff from adults, what a surprise?”
— And perhaps the meanest: “Eat another Tide pod” (posted with laughing emojis).
We don’t really understand this snarkiness.
For teenagers, climate change is not a distant and vague concern — it represents an existential threat. And they know this, not because — as some grown-ups allege — they are being manipulated by Machiavellian scientists and politicians and parents. They know this because they can see the evidence around them, evidence that’s confirmed by NASA.
The shrinking of ice sheets in Greenland and the Antarctic and of sea ice in the Arctic. The disappearance of glaciers around the world. Rising sea levels and warmer oceans. And the resulting extreme weather events — ferocious tornadoes and hurricanes, extended droughts, blistering heat waves.
Weather isn’t climate — so yes, there likely will be snow this winter — but climate change does make weather more extreme.
The kids who participated in Friday’s climate walkout may use cars and cellphones, and even air conditioning, but that doesn’t make them hypocrites. It makes them Americans living in 2019 America. They shouldn’t be expected to live in tents off the grid in order to have their say.
Electric and hybrid cars are priced too high for most teenagers to afford. Our public transportation systems are patchy. The industries that manufacture consumer goods haven’t been given much incentive by the federal government to produce greener products.
Teens need the help of state and federal government if they’re going to see the sweeping changes necessary to counter climate change. That’s why they rallied Friday.
“It’s disappointing to see everything that’s happening and how little people seem to care,” organizer Danny Aubry, 15 and a junior at Stone, told LNP. “And so if they’re not going to do something, I should.”
They weren’t skipping school on a lark. (We’re not teens, but standing in a city square holding recycled cardboard signs doesn’t seem like a whole lot of fun to us.)
We laud the teenagers who took part. And we laud the school administrators — such as School District of Lancaster Superintendent Damaris Rau — who offered them support.
“We understand we have students who are very concerned about this issue, and we respect their right to advocate for climate action,” Rau said. “We have met with the students and we will ensure their safety by walking with them to Penn Square. The students know there is an expectation that they will return to school after the demonstration and are responsible for any work they miss.”
These young people also know the future — their futures — will be bleak if we don’t halt the rise in the Earth’s temperature. If we fail, parts of the world will be inhabitable, fewer people will have access to water, and climate refugees will need to flee to the areas of the world that remain livable and have water.
This isn’t hyperbole. This isn’t fearmongering. These are the analyses of reputable and brilliant scientists who have devoted their lives to trying to save the planet for future lives.
A Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll released earlier this month found that more than 7 in 10 teenagers and young adults say climate change will cause moderate or great harm to people in their generation. A May Gallup poll yielded similar results.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that countries have until 2030 to drastically lower their greenhouse gas emissions to prevent a disastrous temperature rise of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.
That’s 11 years. Or when today’s teenagers may be deciding whether to have families of their own. No wonder they’re worried.