In the Old Testament, Isaiah speaks of a time when there will be no war, when enemies become friends, concluding his prophetic vision by saying that a “little child shall lead them.” I remembered that prophesy as I read about Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish student who started the climate strike movement catching on worldwide.
The movement spread to our state last Friday, as more than 500 students participated in rallies in Chapel Hill and on Halifax Mall in the state government complex. Ranging from ages 10 to 20 and older, strikers are worried about the environment they will inherit.
Climate change has become less about science and more about politics. George H.W. Bush was the first President to acknowledge the impacts of climate change, promising action, then later backing away from it. After former vice president Al Gore went all in on environmental issues Republicans refuted evidence and refused to participate in actions, while Democrats just as eagerly accepted climate change estimates. Both seem more interested in being right than in doing right.
Thurnberg responds, “No matter how political the background to this crisis may be, we must not allow this to continue to be a partisan political question. The climate and ecological crisis is beyond party politics. And our main enemy right now is not our political opponents. Our main enemy now is physics. And we cannot make ‘deals’ with physics.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres responded to Thunberg by saying, “My generation has failed to respond properly to the dramatic challenge of climate change. This is deeply felt by young people. No wonder they are angry.” On Monday, world leaders gathered in New York for the United Nations Secretary-Generals’ Climate Action Summit to address far-reaching steps to combat carbon pollution, rising temperatures and climate destruction. There was consensus that we have environmental problems, but little consensus what can be done to reverse them.
North Carolinians can testify to rising water levels, more frequent flooding, serious beach erosion and damage resulting from increasingly frequent weather events. We are taking some action. Duke Energy recently announced a goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Governor Cooper has proposed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and we have encouraged alternative energy sources. But are we doing enough quickly enough?
Thunberg doesn’t think so. “Adults keep saying, ‘We owe it to the young people to give them hope.’ But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel everyday. And then I want you to act….I want you to act as if your house is on fire. Because it is.”
According to an April 2019 survey from Yale and George Mason universities nearly 7 in 10 Americans think climate change is happening and 6 in 10 believe global warming is affecting our weather. But 63 percent say they don’t talk about it with family or friends.
Most climate strike participants cannot vote, but they can continue persistent climate strikes, force us to focus on their message and urge action. They can be leaders of change. What if they are wrong? The worst that could happen is we spend money and time doing things that benefit future generations.
But what if they are right?
Tom Campbell is former assistant state treasurer and is creator/host of “N.C. Spin,” a weekly statewide television discussion of North Carolina issues that airs on UNC-TV. Contact him at www.ncspin.com.