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samedi 16 mars 2019

Allison Hanes: Let's hope our children's concerns don't fall on deaf ears

We often talk about “kids today” with eye-rolling disdain.

They are not politically engaged, we adults complain. They’re self-absorbed. They’re always on their smartphones. They take too much for granted. They’re coddled, entitled, irresponsible. … Insert your clichéd criticism of millennials or iGen here.

But when they do stand up to be counted, mobilize, and act for the common good, we either don’t give them any credit or we stand in their way. We pat them on the head or we fail to recognize the importance of their message.

Young Montrealers spoke out loud and clear on Friday. They joined their voices with those of youth from across the planet to demand urgent action on climate change. Tens of thousands took to Montreal’s potholed streets — a mass mobilization the likes we haven’t seen since the Maple Spring of 2012. Young people, including babies in carriers, toddlers on their parents’ shoulders, primary students and many who aren’t yet old enough to vote, came together to be heard.

They conveyed a wisdom that belies their age. They served as the conscience of all of a city. They are an inspiration and deserve our admiration.

But that’s not what they want. They want us to listen. And most of all, they want the adults who have failed them to act.

The Montreal protest was organized by university and CEGEP students. But of course the one-day strike resonated with high school students, too, hundreds of whom have been holding weekly protests in Montreal.

Some schools showed understanding and tried to nurture their students’ activism. But others will be handing out detentions on Monday to students who skipped class Friday. Others discouraged kids from participating or told them strikes and protests don’t matter anyway. What a missed opportunity.

A generation is being galvanized by the inaction of preceding ones. Youngsters are looking at trying to influence world affairs in any way they can. And they’re willing to pay the price, whether in time spent in detention or lost marks. They’re already jaded about broken promises and platitudes. We don’t need to deepen their cynicism about the depths of adult hypocrisy.

Some younger students’ parents have supported their children, be it with reluctance or pride, by approving their kids’ absences, or accompanying them to the demonstration. But there is so much more to be done.

As parents we sacrifice everything to provide our children with a bright future.  But on the existential issue of climate change, we’re falling short. Our decisions and habits are dooming us. Our inability to correct course will probably deprive our kids of a prosperous tomorrow.

But, of course, we as individuals, as parents, as citizens can only do so much on our own. Our political leaders are the ones who bear the ultimate responsibility, to provide the infrastructure, fund the initiatives and steer the changes that must take place.

On the eve of Friday’s march, federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, her Quebec counterpart Benoît Charette and Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante held a joint news conference where they announced a major international climate change summit will take place in Montreal in late April.

We can only hope for the kind of concrete steps that our kids were asking for. But it’s hard to be optimistic when Charette couldn’t find time to meet with the local protest organizers before March 14 or 15.

The people who may understand best what Montreal students are experiencing are scientists. More than 350 Quebec researchers, in domains as diverse as climate science and artificial intelligence, last week signed a statement voicing support for the striking students. Scientists’ dire warnings about the dangers the planet is facing have been dismissed, denied or paid lip service for decades.

Let’s hope our children’s concerns don’t fall on deaf ears.

The International Panel for Climate Change gave us 10, 12 years tops to turn things around. It ominously warned the most devastating effects of global warming will be felt sooner and at a lower temperature than previously feared. Since then the news has only gotten grimmer, with additional data about warming oceans and melting permafrost perhaps making the alarming United Nations scientific consensus now look optimistic.

The prospects for our children when they come of age between 2030 and 2040 are incredibly bleak – food shortages, extreme weather, more natural disasters, rising oceans, droughts, unbreathable air. Which is why they need our help now more than ever.

Our kids may be leading the way, but we’re still the grownups here. It is up to us. Their fates are in our hands.


from Montreal Gazette

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