By Damien Thomson.
Today is the day where hundreds of thousands of young people are expected to strike from school and take to the streets to demands immediate and radical climate action. Thousands have taken part in 37 different actions across Ireland, including an estimated 10,000 protesting outside the Dáil in Dublin.
It seems like we are all cheering them on, but who really has their backs? Who actually supports their demands?
The demands of the youth movement on climate can only be described as revolutionary. The young strikers do not tread lightly on making their point. They want the emergency button to be pressed immediately on climate change and the panic response to kick off.
They do not want to hear excuses. They want swift and unprecedented action on climate, in order to have any chance of saving their futures. The fact that children and young people are leading on this is noteworthy – they see no future with the current rate of progress.
And they are absolutely spot on. Even considering all the climate commitments made under the UN Paris Agreement to stop global warming, supported by the majority of the establishment internationally, global warming is still projected to reach an increase of 3.2° Celsius by the end of the century.
Given that the latest special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) from October 2018 warns of the disastrous ecological and human cost of a 2°C rise, one can only imagine what future we face on the current path of 3°+ degrees. We are talking about hitting the tipping point – the point of no return – when the effects of global warming will multiply and we will have no ability to rein it in.
Children born today have a life expectancy beyond the year 2100. Young people are not taking to the streets because it is the latest craze; rather, it is because it is the last chance. We have 12 years to make the “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes to our economy” demanded by science: these striking young people do not expect anything less than that. They are not on the streets calling for moderate liberal demands such as a carbon tax, or carbon market reform – they want a climate revolution.
More than 150,000 young people have already gathered in Australia, and throughout the day, young people in cities and towns across the world – in more than 100 countries – are getting their homemade placards out and meeting in their local areas to come together as part of a massive global movement to make their message heard loud and clear.
Politicians who accept the science and the need for an emergency response, you would think, would agree with these demands. However, in Ireland, what we have to date are three main political responses to this global movement: 1) genuine support from left political parties, including agreement with their demands; 2) odd interpretations of the movement from liberal greens who are fixated on using the movement to railroad through carbon tax increases as the ‘radical solution’; and 3) patronising head-nodding from conservative groups, including the government.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar stated that he endorses the students strike today on March 15, while at the same time he leads a government that has greenwashed climate inaction and is failing to make inroads on all climate targets.
Saoi O’Connor, 16-year-old Cork-based climate striker, put it frankly: “If you are not supporting immediate radical climate action, then you can’t be supporting the students walking out”. Saoi makes an excellent point – it’s not enough to support the young people striking today, you need to be supporting their demands, and willing to put them into action.
Yesterday, the European Parliament adopted an important resolution on climate change, the last one it will approve before EU parliamentary elections in May. An amendment tabled by the left group recognising the youth movement and calling for their demands to be heard was passed. It was, of course, resisted by the right-wing of the Parliament, but also accepted by some conservatives and liberals, getting it over the line. Many of the liberals and conservatives who helped approve this amendment, however, went on to vote down crucial amendments that were actionable on climate change.
In their typical contradictory style on climate matters, Fine Gael’s four MEPs voted against the most progressive demands while claiming to support the climate strikers. Most notably, amendments from the left to boost the EU’s 2030 climate ambition on emissions reduction targets from 40 per cent to 55 per cent succeeded – but with no thanks from Deirdre Clune, Sean Kelly, Brian Hayes and Mairead McGuinness, who voted against.
The four conservative MEPs also voted against the EU divesting from fossil fuels – a bizarre move given that Ireland is the first state to do so globally. It doesn’t stop there: they voted against a proposal for a 100 per cent renewable-based 2050 energy strategy and against making climate justice a fundamental value of the EU.
So can Fine Gael, or conservatives in general, honestly say they support the youth strikers, or are they really just offering a patronising pat on the head? It seems like the neoliberal force of trivialising social movements is at play.
Earlier this week, 60 young climate activists were invited to the European Parliament to view the debate on climate change in the chamber from the gallery, among them Ireland’s Saoi O’Connor. The action to invite this big group of young climate activists was an initiative from the left wing of the Parliament, given that the centre and right wing blocked a proposal to invite Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg to address the plenary session.
In a very symbolic way, the 60 activists could only look down on the politicians as they debated, literally excluded from participating thanks to liberals and conservatives. What was revealed from the debate, and the vote record on the climate resolution, is the answer to who is really in support of the climate strikers.
It comes down to political ideology. Liberal and conservative ideologies simply cannot meet the demands of the youth movement on climate. Their interests are skewed, their priorities backwards. For liberals and conservatives, ensuring a commercialised energy market is more important than phasing out fossil fuels; protecting the status quo of private profiteering is more important than protecting the environment; the appearance of climate action is more important than taking the necessary bold steps.
So climate strikers, the left is fully behind you. Your demands are our demands and today we will strike with you for the genuine, radical and revolutionary climate action we need.
Damien Thomson is a contributing editor of Irish Broad Left. Follow him on Twitter @dmacthomais.