Attending the school strikes on Friday was a privilege. It was pretty exhausting: I had taken a strike day without leave from work and had pulled my 5 ½ year old out of school. To their credit, they gave him an authorised absence. (Intriguingly, the schools in Stockport, up the road, had unanimously decided to make them unauthorised. Just saying) He wasn’t that into it until we got a lolly and made some giant bubbles. I wish I had frozen some of my raspberries, but I’m sorry to report we actually had to contribute to the economic system I’m going to have a little rant about later. What can I say? System change, not climate change. I’m grateful extinction rebellion is a non-shaming organisation.
Hearing a young school girl, Lillia, speak was the most moving moment for me. She called out the Mayor to his face for the lack of action, and for the hypocrisy of continuing to invest in fossil fuels and building car parks near schools. It was courageous and eloquent. I felt hope about the climate for the first time in a long while. If this generation of people can continue catalysing this massive shift in consciousness, perhaps a revolution in how we feed ourselves, travel, study and relate is possible too.
It is worth reflecting, isn’t it, that global protests are now possible? When before has it been possible for the population to unite on such a huge scale? To synchronise the effect on the economy and polity of respective states. It is phenomenal! And catalysed by a shy Swedish child with autism who simply said she wasn’t going to school (and some savy social media work around her action, I feel to add). It seems almost unbelievable that such a tiny protest could catalyse something so massive, but the context is everything. Decades of not being listened to, clearer and starker climate science coming out all the time, a generation of young people more ‘switched on’ than any before it. The stage had been set, and Greta was the perfect heroine.
Depending who you ask, 125-150 countries took part, there were between 2500-4000 events, with an estimated 1.4 million people striking for the climate in Germany alone. New York’s footage gives a glimpse of how massive this movement is. Collating the numbers available on wikipedia I estimate around 2.4 million (2 395 615), although many countries like Pakistan didn’t have numbers available. Estimates range from 1-4 million, but counting is a tricky exercise. Does it matter? The largest climate protest in history by a long, long way. More than that, it was the largest global protest ever. The closest thing I’m aware of is the 2011 global change protests but I’m happy to be proven wrong. Those protests - which we have to remember these climate protests are built upon - got about one million participants worldwide. They put the 99%/1% wealth divide in the public consciousness. It was a leap forward. Many, many years of campaigning and activism has built a global network capable of communicating and administering such actions. It’s an incredible time to be alive: globalised solidarity combined with solutions that learn from each other is becoming viable in a practical, real-time sense. Genuine democracy might actually be possible. Who’d a thought? Pretty sweet, right? Even better? It’s gonna take a full scale rebellion to de-throne the powers that be. And rebellion is fun.
There was only one thing that saddened me about the protest in Manchester that day. The climate movement has embedded in it a certain amount of grief, so I expect it to some extent: half of all wildlife has been killed in the last 40 years. Half. It is simply heartbreaking. Grief is the appropriate response of a human being awake and aware of the fact that we are not an isolated species: we are woven into a web of life like a thread in a tapestry. A thread that is currently, it seems, fairly addicted to arson. For me, when a species goes extinct part of us dies too. I’ve come to accept grief as part of this movement, even to cherish grief. It shows me I’m still alive and open to change.
But when an adult took to the stage and started encouraging the crowd to chant ‘Tories Tories Tories! Out out out!’ I just felt the rage beast stirring in my chest. Let me be clear: I don’t vote conservative. I’m not a Tory. I have some pretty strong views about the history and present behaviour of the Tory party. But this is not about one group failing to act on climate change ‘more’ than another (although this governments failure to act is considered a moral and legal crime by many). The reason for the rage is how inappropriate the climate platform is for political party allegiances being explicitly ‘pushed’ or demeaned.
This climate movement is about a whole economic and political system gone ecocidal. To say that one party needs to be out under the assumption that if ‘our’ party was in power climate change wouldn’t happen is delusional at the best. At worst it is catastrophic. Climate change and biodiversity collapse is the ‘cause of all causes’. We need around 4% of the population actively engaged in this struggle, and those numbers are not all going to come from white middle class liberals. There are no human rights in a world with 5 degrees of warming, which is where we are heading right now according to studies from Yale. There are no political parties, or workers rights, or welfare state, or NHS, or state education. It’s a world where an estimated 1 billion people survive. We’re talking zombie movie levels of devastation, people. We’re talking Biblical, judgement day, book of revelations shizzle and the whole ‘yeah but they’re the ones to blame’ paradigm is just obscene in such a context. Even Andy Burnham had a poke at central government, saying we should blame them not him. I empathise with the man, but step up, Andy, represent.
There is simply no place for someone taking a stage and starting to take sides considering where the science tells us we are. If we are to move forward, we will need to shed the us and them narrative. We are all passengers on this planet, whether Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem, EDL, Monster Raving Loonies, Pink Independent Monkey Enthusiasts: whatever. It simply doesn’t matter. There is no space in this rebellion for judging or excluding others based on any ideology, class, race, creed, gender or sexuality. This is the movement of all movements and to succeed we must learn to move together as one ecosystem of change. These issues are closer than politics: they are about how, and if, we live. Any sniping of other groups is misdirected energy. As Greta’s carbon neutral yacht had emblazoned upon it: “UNITE BEHIND THE SCIENCE”. And what does the science tell us? If we don’t tell the truth and act now, our membership cards will be about as useful as a placard made of loo roll.