Youth, education and climate

See Disclaimer. Also published as “You must educate yourself with a sense of urgency” (Hood River News, Another Voice, September 25, 2019)

Sixteen year old activist Greta Thunberg is a powerful spokesperson for action on climate change—having uniquely captured the world’s imagination with words and actions. This week, in association with the United Nations Climate Action Summit, her moral clarity and that of youth around the world, can make a real difference towards a sustainable human race. May they succeed where adults are failing!

Their powerful youth movement has been propelled by FridaysForFuture, an initiative inspired on Greta’s lone climate strikes ahead of Sweden’s 2018 elections. The worldwide initiative involves students skipping school on Fridays, to call attention to the fact that it is their future that we are—first and foremost—jeopardizing through inadequate action.

Paradoxically, FridaysForFuture grew around a self-defeating premise: “Why study for a future, which may not be there? Why spend a lot of effort to become educated, when our governments are not listening to the educated?”. The answer, Greta and students around the world, is that your education must, now more than ever, be strong and empowering.

This is truly the time when your passion and your knowledge must come together!

You were right, Greta, in telling the US Congress: “If you want advice for what you should do, invite scientists, ask scientists for their expertise. […] We want science to be heard.”

Across the world, your generation will soon be able to vote, and to assume leadership roles in politics, policy and much more. Doing so in decisive and effective ways, requires both the passion and drive that you already have, and the scientific knowledge that must inform your future actions.

Your generation must know that you have a future. Climate change non-withstanding, you will likely be alive by the time you are able to vote. And by the time you can ask people for their vote. Even by the time you can retire. Without our action now, you will ‘just’ have to face adult challenges with much less room for mistakes, and in a context of much increased threats to your health, your economic welfare, your life expectancy and quality of life, and your children’s prospects. You will have drastically less options to reduce the pace of climate change—rather, you might need to focus, with vastly less odds of satisfactory outcomes, on mitigation and adaptation to impacts.

I am not comforting you. I am certainly not saying that you will be all right. I am, sadly, acknowledging that your fate might be far more complex than our reality, and likely more dire. We will pass you the ball when the chances of winning the game are way diminished. And that means that if you want to give yours and the following generations any chance at all, you will need to know facts and assess uncertainties—or risk actions that might, in spite of good intentions, be ineffective or even outright damaging.

We are where we are on climate in part because of greed and ego, but also because of insufficient or misleading information, and even utter ignorance. Survival, dear youth around the world, will require that you understand science, math, economics, medicine, and other quantitative disciplines. It will require that you temper those with nature experiences, music, literature, sociology and so many other forms of arts and humanities. And, yes, it will require that as you master such things as artificial intelligence and gene manipulation, you also get a firm grip on social complexity, empathy and ethics. You must educate yourselves with a sense of urgency, broadly and eagerly, as if your life depended on it. Because it does!

School strikes caught the world’s attention, and increased climate change awareness and advocacy. Well done! I admire and appreciate you! And I hope that you don’t repeat our errors. None of them. Not the greed. Not the ego. Not the indifference. And not failing to pay enough attention to education and facts, at each and every stage of life.

Moving forward, my young friends, may FridaysForFuture evolve to also re-enforce the power and urgency of your education. For your future. For the survival of the human race.

— Antonio Baptista


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