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New York City public school students were given the day off to protest the world with Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. We figured the Department of Education must have good reasons for proclaiming that a day of climate change action was more important than a day of STEM, ELA, GGB and math, so my son, his friend, and I decided to join them. A massive international protest seemed like as good a reason as any to miss a spelling test.
Thunberg made headlines for starting the international Climate Strike movement, where kids ditch school and take to the streets to tell the world it’s about to end. Grown-ups just love it. When all the kids stand up and repeat back to you just what you’ve been telling them to think this entire time, you know your indoctrination is working, and it’s probably a damn fine feeling.
The climate strikers gathered in Manhattan’s Foley Square, right near City Hall. Adults with expectant smiles sprinkled among the teens were so pleased to take a back seat to the kids and cheer them on. The kids were exuberant for the excused absence from school, complete with the opportunity to take over the streets and yell “free the nipple” and “fuck this shit” as loud as they possibly could. A pervasive chant was: “we won’t let our planet die, climate change is not a lie.”
My kid had made a sign but on the way out the door, decided he didn’t want to carry it. Lots of kids in the crowd seemed annoyed to be carrying their signs. I overheard a mom talk to her daughter about how meaningful her sign was. It read: “Our World Our Responsibility.”
Proud parents took pics of their kids with quippy protest signs and posted them to Instagram. Beaming faces glorified in their precocious young protesters’ protestations. Exuberant parents seemed to say: Let’s get behind my offspring and let them show us the way! An older woman held up a cardboard sign that read “and a child shall lead them,” because for sure Greta Thunberg is the second coming.
These parents and educators who don’t let the kids cross the street by themselves, think they’re too fragile to take state-mandated tests, and have parental settings tuned up to 100, believe children can save the world with a few signs, some loud chanting, and maybe a drum circle or two.
We popped into a pizza place for some traditional New York protest pizza. A lady in the pizza shop was horrified at how many people were out. “What is this? Is it some kind of protest thing? How we supposed to get anywhere with this?” she asked, proving that there’s not much that can saturate the city’s consciousness.
One of the big selling points of the climate strike and the movement to end climate change is that the world is in such dire straits that it’s on the verge of ending if we don’t act now. Do we really only have 12 years to avoid total climate collapse and the end of the Anthropocene Era as we know it?
I asked some kids on the street when they thought the world would end. Gina told me “I feel like what we need now is a broad-based movement rooted from the awareness of everyone. So I feel like movements like these could really raise awareness and bring the social cause to everyone’s knowledge. I feel like not a lot of people know about the issue and once the ideas get out we just need authoritative support and everything will be cool hopefully.”
Given how the world is in such bad shape, I thought the kids would want to weigh in on the birth strike movement, which posits that it’s irresponsible to have children and everyone should stop.
I asked a young lady what she thought, and she told me “I don’t even know, I’m the wrong person to ask, ask Andrew.” Then she covered her mouth with her hand, pointed at Andrew who declined to be interviewed and giggled.
Two girls near Battery Park were willing to talk to me about the birth strike. “We know about it,” one girl said, “but not to say that we can speak on behalf of participating in it.” She asked me to elaborate on it. “It talks about how it’s not right to have kids…”
She jumped in. “I just think it’s absolutely disgusting,” she said, “someone’s body, it’s like their choice if they wanna have kids, and if they don’t, then they don’t, and it shouldn’t be a rule, just like women’s rights, and it’s your body, your rules.”
I asked her how long we have left on the earth. “I don’t want to think about it,” she said, “I just wanna think that I’m gonna make a change and that this generation is staying woke, and the amount of kids in high school here, like I’m 16-years-old, and I’m standing up for what’s right along with so many other people, and if this continues this is the next generation, we’re the kids that get to vote in the next election.”
Her friend chimed in. “I think it’s misrepresented that the earth itself won’t end necessarily right away, but it will be irreversible in the coming months if we don’t keep like temperature change below like 1.5 degrees Celsius, then all changes will be irreversible, but in terms of the world ending, it’s not as immediate but it’s definitely going to happen if we don’t do anything about it.”
I asked two boys what they thought of the birth strike movement. “Everyone has their own choice. We’re free humans, bound as individuals in a social contract with our government, and so, y’know, we’re free.”
“It’s a personal choice issue,” his friend said, “nothing to do with the government to control it. But I kinda do subscribe to that thought that’s like we’re gonna mess up the planet so much that it’s like a bad idea, but it’s a very personal choice and it’s nothing you could like define by a governmental policy.”
“And how long do we have left?” I asked.
“Hopefully,” said the burgeoning birth striker “if we get stuff done hopefully we survive but like if we don’t do anything in the next five years, maybe 80, 90 at most. But it depends because scientific advancements are growing so fast they like might figure out carbon capture, save us all, we don’t know. It’s a big question right now.”
The method of the climate strike is to proclaim crisis, incite panic, and spur action. When people are in crisis mode, they do not take time to think clearly, they simply react, with immediate survival as the foremost goal. Panic is not a great tool of social change, it’s a tool of stampedes. Action undertaken from a place of “house on fire” catastrophe does not lead to good decisions for the future, it leads to quick decisions on the fly that appear to get you out of imminent danger.
Most of the kids out in the streets were New York City high schoolers, and they really seemed to think they were on to something. They wanted the grown-ups to stop making everything bad, and they said that loudly, provocatively, and with a catchy beat.
Eighth graders I talked to back in my Brooklyn neighbourhood that night had heard of the climate strike, but none had gone. Everyone figured they’d just get in trouble for ditching school. Plus a lot of them are prepping for the intensive high school placement tests this year, and they didn’t want to fall behind. They’re taking things one crisis at a time, and the supposed end of the world isn’t as relevant as the real end of the term, to them or their parents.
After a bunch of drums came through, the boys were holding his ears and ready to go. They’d been ready to leave since we got there, pizza aside, and wanted to go play video games. We didn’t stay for the speeches, because frankly, if the end is nigh, I’ve heard it all before, and there’s no need to freak the kids out. Plus, we still had spelling to study for.