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The children's strike against the end of the world

cultural q's

This weekend I did what I do best. I watched the global climate strike from the apathy of my phone screen. I woke up on Friday morning and lay in bed, brain hazy with sleep. I fixed a dead stare at my Instagram feed, as I do most mornings, and scrolled to infinity until I felt tired again. The strike was everywhere. Protestors waved funny signs that were actually terrifying and apocalyptic: “The Planet Is Hotter Than Shawn Mendes,” “Don’t Mine Coal, Minecraft,” “Too Bee Or Not To Bee, That Is The Question.” Hashtag #climatestrike. Greta Thunberg. Greta Thunberg. Greta Thunberg

It’s hard not to smile when a little kid with big round eyes carries a sign that reads “Don’t Mess With My Future,”—this was also one of Thunberg’s sternly-delivered directives during her UN speech this weekend. Thunberg is the kid/teen/young adult with big, round, fearful eyes. It’s probably evolutionary instinct that compels me to coo at any child holding a sign bigger than herself, regardless of the fact that she holds a sign prophesying the end of the world. Donald Trump did it just the other day, calling Thunberg a “very happy young girl,” and came under fire for being extremely condescending. Soon after, Thunberg changed her Twitter bio to mock Trump’s rhetoric. 

We have turned to round-eyed young people for hope in a time where hope seems to be at an all time low—political stalemate, uncontrollable gun violence, border crisis, climate catastrophe. It is redemptive to see hordes of children who want to save the planet. They’re lights for dark times. Yet it is unfair to lean on children for a climate crisis that was created by adults and whose solutions require the immediate attention of adults. Capitalizing children and their innocence to appeal to policymakers just might work—the image of young people dying might be desperate enough to finally incite reformation—but it also doesn’t feel entirely right. Maybe that’s the point.

I’m conflicted about the, well, childlike rhetoric that was brought to the protests. In a VICE video titled “These Climate Strike Kids Will Restore Your Hope In Humanity,” nine-year-old Luka Cavelli says, “I wish we had more solar panels instead of fossil fuels or electricity. Because those come from factories and factories make these gases that aren’t good for the hemisphere.” The linearity of thought is illusory—for a second, it feels like the solution is that easy. And maybe “hemisphere” is close enough to “atmosphere” to give the kid a pass.

But the truth is that Greta Thunberg is exceptional in her awareness and her elocution. For every child who knows the difference between the hemisphere and the atmosphere at age nine, there are many more who do not. For every adult who believes in climate action, there are many more who do not. And above all, it is Goliath who damages the environment the most—Big Meat, Big Coal, Big Deforestation. 

Young people were the ones throwing stones into the eye of the giant last weekend. It was a spectacle, definitely, but whether to feel hopeful or disquieted, I’m not sure yet. I don’t think the answer is clear. Posing kids—many of whom who have a simplified understanding of the stakes of their protest—next to the imminent end of the world made the climate strikes last weekend grotesque. 

An estimated four million protestors marched last weekend, the largest climate protest in history. Just the fact that the strikes happened is extraordinary. And yet, I imagine the enormous pile of paper waste that came from making those signs, of the toxins in those colorful markers and the cars stalled in traffic to make space for protestors. If I continue along my own fatalism and indulge irony, I imagine that the protestors who skipped school to march might’ve driven home, ordered takeout delivered to them in styrofoam containers, taken a long shower, forgotten to turn off the light in the bathroom.

I’m thinking about these things because I am just as guilty. Of walking through West Union in a half-hearted attempt to find a non-plastic fork and giving up. Of Ubering off campus because walking is inconvenient. Of prioritizing my own comfort, almost always. This guilt reminds me of the saying that death is a side effect of living. It’s impossible to exist in the modern world without damaging the environment. I wonder what it would be like to shirk hope for a more nihilistic view: the world is definitely ending. 

Nope. Despite my criticism, I am still hopeful. It’s a childlike hope I carry as we enter the sixth mass extinction. But practically, there are only two options: to have hope or to not have hope. Both are delusional in their own ways, but a choice between the two should be made. Choose whichever one compels you to act. 

Last summer, I listened to this TED Radio Hour on the climate crisis, I heard something that has helped sustain my hope: “To those who despair...that your limited actions on their own won’t solve global warming, I say don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” I’m trying to eat less meat. I started following futureearth, a cool Instagram account that explains the climate crisis through infographics. I walked past a piece of trash on the ground the other day, stopped and thought for a second, walked back, picked it up, and threw it in the garbage. Nothing to rave about, but the world doesn’t need to be definitely ending in order for us to start caring for it. 

And last night, I watched the stars in an open-roofed barn off campus. The only time I’ve seen the entire galaxy was the summer I went to the Amazon rainforest, which is on fire right now. It’s freaky how brilliant the night sky can be when there is no light pollution, and I don’t know when I will ever have that sky again. But last night, I could see Jupiter—a bright dot at the center of my view.

Alice Dai is a Pratt senior. Her column, “cultural q’s,” usually runs on alternate Wednesdays.


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