THE old adage, ‘I am older, but no wiser’, sadly pertains to many of the world’s politicians. There is a storm brewing worldwide as educated youths march in protest to try to get politicians to recognise that climate change is already wrecking our comfort zones wherever we are located on the globe. It is a cri de coeur from young people, for they truly care about our planet.
It is not unnatural for older folk to condemn the youth of their day, as perhaps many of us were condemned in the past for what was perceived by our parents and elders as ‘naive opinions’. Now a sea change is taking place for through environmental education, our youth have become climate change activists.
A 15-year-old Swedish student, Greta Thunberg, who has Asperger’s syndrome, was invited to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), held in Katowice, Poland in mid-November 2018, to address delegates from nearly 300 countries. There she gave a passionate and moving speech saying, “You are not mature enough to tell it how it is. Even that burden you leave to us (youth)!”
The world’s delegates at this 24th annual conference were forced to squirm with her impassioned pleas to make decisions within their own countries and to immediately put their rhetoric into action. Greta, the voice of our youth, has shaken the world and its governments into meaningful action. Yet, this has not been a lone voice in the wilderness.
Youthful protests worldwide
Early last November, a groundswell of protest for climate action took place in London, UK, blocking the capital’s access roads. Australia’s youth took up the metamorphic cudgels on Nov 30, 2018, when 15,000 students, in 30 places, skipped school to join a national youth protest. The Australian Prime Minister’s statement demanding “more learning in schools and less activism” merely fuelled the minds of the young to make their protests heard. After all, it was through education and the way they related evidence of climate change to their own lives which gave them the right to be heard.
Social media, Facebook and Instagram, has mobilised many European students. The rally-cry saw 35,000 Belgian students protesting in Brussels on Jan 24, 2019. Some 10,000 school children across 60 British towns and cities absented themselves from lessons on Feb 15 to demonstrate on inactivity by governments worldwide. More youth protests are planned for this year.
To see placards held aloft by student protesters in the Netherlands with the words, ‘Stop denying the Earth is dying’, and in the USA, ‘The Atmosphere is a Public Trust’, sends frank messages to all of us.
What are they protesting about?
Our world’s youth have recognised and taken fully on board the following interrelated factors which promote global warming and climate change. We, ever since the start of the Industrial Revolution (1752), have created greenhouse gases which effectively absorb thermal infrared radiation, emitted by the Earth’s surface, by the atmosphere itself owing to some gases, and by clouds. Greenhouse gases trap heat within the surface-troposphere system and thus create the ‘Greenhouse effect’.
The main causes of global warming are:
- An increase in the carbon dioxide concentration in our atmosphere by circa 30 per cent is largely related to human population explosions, thereby increasing fossil fuel combustion for electricity, heating, cooking, transport, and cement manufacturing. The predictions are of soon-to-arrive CO2 concentrations that have never before been observed on Earth in the last 50 million years. This is leading and will lead to further changes in the Earth’s average surface temperatures.
- The depletion of the ozone layer in the stratosphere, protecting us from ultraviolet light, has been observed in the Antarctic and Arctic regions. Industrial pollution and the emissions of CFC gases have led to this.
- Deforestation. Forests not only capture CO2 from our atmosphere but also store it. The removal of forests for timber, wood and charcoal burning, land clearance for agricultural purposes all remove these natural air filters and release vast amounts of CO2 back into the atmosphere.
- Methane and nitrous oxide emissions. With concentrated livestock production, the level of methane is forever increasing. Methane clathrate, a compound trapped in glaciers and permafrost areas, is constantly being released as increased temperatures promote melting. Mining for coal, oil and natural gas also allows methane to escape into our atmosphere.
- Aerosol production. Aerosols absorb solar and infra-red radiation through biomass burning and particularly from vehicle emissions and thus create condensation nuclei to attract water droplets in the atmosphere. Such nuclei are three times higher in northern latitudes than in the southern hemisphere thus leading to increasingly local heavier rainfall inputs.
- The rise of sea levels. The constant melting of the huge ice sheets of Antarctica and the ice cap of Greenland have led to increases in sea levels such that the Arctic Ocean ice is forever melting. This has led to the displacement worldwide of millions of people. The Maldives is no exception, for very many Pacific island inhabitants face the same situation. As seawater is heated up so it expands, causing yet more rises in sea levels.
- The effect of ever-warming sea waters on plankton growth. Plankton, the feeding nutrients for much of marine life, has been depleted, thus leading to a decrease in the populations of sea-lions, urchins, kelp beds, and fish. This is what I call ‘The house that Jack built’ scenario, where one part of an ecosystem affects another.
- An increase in the atmosphere’s water vapour content. This is due to CO2 induced warming. As the average temperature on Earth rises, so do the evaporation rates leading to drought in some regions and to intensive, heavy rainfall inputs and hence to severe flooding, landslides, and cliff falls in other parts of our planet.
Part of a bigger system
As so-called civilised keepers of our only planet, through our ever-increasing endeavours to develop our nations, we nonetheless lost track of the consequences of our actions to the detriment of our ecosystems. This has been through industrialisation, deforestation, agricultural gains and modes and methods of transportation.
Today we are subjected to not only obnoxious gas emissions but to a topsy-turvy climate and unpredictable daily weather worldwide. We are not only our planet dwellers, for fish, animals, birds, insects, vegetation, and biota are equally affected by our inherited design for so-called development and progress. Capital gains have amassed for many people, but sadly at the expense of others and of our environment.
Our youth are educated in the problems created by the exploitation of our planet. Global warming has become a cross-curricular topic in their education. Please listen, governments, to what they are asking for, although younger than many politicians, their pleas are for a better future than what they have inherited.
‘The seas are rising and so are we’, written on a placard held high in a student protest march in the USA. Such a positive statement suggests that our students worldwide are no longer to be seen and not heard. Many of these youngsters are the voters of tomorrow. A stitch in time may well save nine for all of us if we are to press all governments to put their rhetoric into action to slow down the world’s temperature increases. It is not impossible or unsurmountable. Please hear our youths’ voices.
Comments can reach the writer via [email protected]