Seeing leadership on climate change coming from children and young people is one of the most striking developments in the whole debate in recent years. It’s exciting and hopeful to see, and at the same time shameful that it’s necessary at all. It shines a particularly powerful spotlight on our failure to take serious climate action, and our complacency about inter-generational injustice.
It also puts adults in a tight spot, in different ways. Some oppose it and take the opportunity to tell children about their rightful place. That’s patronising and deeply unhelpful. Others want to support the movement but aren’t entirely sure how. 350.org and 10:10 have suggestions for grown-ups, the most important being to listen.
As a parent of a five and a seven year old, my response is a little different. We’ve enjoyed going together to climate marches and Extinction Rebellion events, but they’re not old enough to join the climate strike. As my wife and I regularly discuss, there’s a fine balance between involving children in the things that matter to us, and burdening them with troubles they’re not ready for. We want them to be environmentally aware, but they need to feel safe in their small childhood worlds.
At the same time, children have a strong natural sense of justice. They believe that if something is wrong, it should be fixed. I hear that from my children all the time, and we want them to understand that they don’t need to wait for others to act when they see something that needs attention. So I’m always looking for things we can do together that give them a voice on the issues that matter to us as a family. We join campaigns and they send letters and pictures. Zach loved being a member of his eco-school committee last year, and we’re doing some eco-church experiments at the moment. Practical things like community gardening are the most effective, and the kids take real pride in the mini-orchard that they planted and the gardens and planters they’ve helped to create in the local streets.
Here’s another action we can take and pass around: Kids for Climate was started by a handful of school children in Belgium, and it’s a petition by children and from children. It was Marian Jones’s idea, currently in year three:
Of all people living on this planet at the moment, it is our generation that will be hit hardest by climate change, while we are not responsible for causing this problem. It will be too late to change things by the time we have finished studying. Starting this petition and letting our voices be heard is the only thing we can do now.
Kids for Climate is for children aged 6 to 12, who can sign with their parents. It’s available in English, French, German and Dutch.