An Extinction Rebellion.
‘We are bovvered, though’ read a placard above a picture of Catherine Tate’s apathetic teenager Lauren Cooper. ‘We can get an extension on our essays, but not on our planet’ read another, and ‘This pale blue dot is all we’ve got’, ‘Respect your Mother’ ‘There is no Planet B’ went others. Articulate, thoughtful, funny and passionate, just like the people holding the banners. The youth strike for the Climate Emergency on the last Friday before half term was a revelation.
It was also heartening. I started an Environment Club at University and my life has been chaptered by protests; mostly environmental ones. I’ve witnessed local extinctions on my home ground of birds that feature in the oldest books in our culture: nightingales, turtle doves, roding, breeding woodcock, nesting lapwing – all in the last 15 years. I’ve poured my heart out about that on these pages and in the book I’m writing.
When I was a teenager in the 1980s, the end of the world was pretty nigh, too. The idiocy of the grown-ups then, was nuclear war or ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’. No irony in the acronym, surely. The Domesday Clock was set at three minutes to midnight. I grew up to the chilling sound of the four-minute warning siren practice, and didn’t believe then, what the grown-ups told us: that, living in Greenham, just a mile away from 96 nuclear warheads (each with the equivalent destructive power of 16 Hiroshima bombs) we’d be safe hiding in a makeshift den of our books and some cardboard boxes under the table. We’d all seen Raymond Brigg’s animation When the Wind Blows. The end of the world as we know it for these students (and us) is not so easily stopped, even though we know how. The clock hands have moved another minute closer.
United Nations state we have 12 years to prevent climate change catastrophe with irreversible elements. There is no historic precedent for the predicted devastation. Another global scientific review warns that if we continue to act as we are, almost all insects will be extinct in just a few decades and life as we know it will be unviable.
I’m privileged to work with some incredible young people who care very much about their studies, their environment and their future. With overwhelming scientific evidence, they don’t believe they’ve got one. I know several of the students who protested and am very proud of them. It will have been a big decision for them to do this. They do their homework. They don’t miss school. They are hard-working, inventive, humble, self-deprecating and very funny. At times they demonstrate kindnesses that would shame most adults.
My youngest (11) wants to be an entomologist. She probably knows more about insects and the basis of life on earth, than the average adult. Their extinction keeps her awake some nights. My middle child (14) wants to be a marine biologist or an environmental artist. She’ll be speaking in her upcoming GCSE exam about plastic in the sea and what we can do about it. My oldest (17) wants to work in the music industry. He listens to contemporary punk bands who write songs about women’s rights, men’s mental health, the NHS – and the environment. He writes them too.
Unlike us, they have everything to lose.
Our only planet is burning and all we’re doing is fiddling. The kids are not just alright. They are right.