Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg delivers and impassioned speech at the UN.

Editorial: Youth must be heard

  • October 3, 2019

Out of the mouths of babes has poured a passionate and brutally blunt condemnation of mankind’s contamination of God’s creation.

They raised their voices Sept. 27 in the tens of thousands across Canada, spilling into city streets to demand that political and business leaders act immediately and decisively to reduce greenhouse gas emissions before the wounds of the planet become irreparable. Their message was a rebuke of prior generations and a demand to know how their elders dare, despite so much damning evidence, to continue the desecration of our common home and to display such little shame about bequeathing future generations a legacy of environmental calamity.

Their anger and sense of betrayal were summed up a week earlier at the UN by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, the standard bearer of a new worldwide youth movement.

“People are dying,” she scolded the General Assembly. “Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”

Young people are rightly dismayed. They face unenviable scenarios. Either the industrialized world continues on its current path resulting in rising seas, drought, wildfires, dirty air, deadly storms and species extinctions — or world leaders immediately declare war on carbon emissions and brace for the inevitable financial and social upheaval as a global economy dependent on fossil fuels for two centuries transitions to a greener world. 

Fossil fuels are the ugly birthmark of the modern industrialized world. There is no painless way to remove them, which is why for decades business and political leaders have dragged their feet amid growing evidence of a coming ecological crisis. Executive bonuses and re-elections aren’t won by battling climate change. Money and fairytales, Thunberg chided, and she wasn’t far off. 

So the resentment and anger of the world’s youth is justified. They may have more consumer comforts than any generation before them, but the price tag was kept from them until now. Young people are realizing the evolution of the material world came at the cost of despoiling the planet — and they’re being stuck with the bill to clean it up.

They deserve support and genuine government efforts to honour existing international agreements to dramatically reduce greenhouse gases. They don’t deserve more political platitudes and empty promises, and they are certainly underserving of the smugness and derision coming from some critics.

In his encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’, Pope Francis lamented how coming generations face “debris, desolation and filth” unless today’s leaders embrace with sincerity the concept of inter-generational solidarity, rather than offer perfunctory nods of concern. “The notion of the common good also extends to future generations,” he said.

The Pope is right. Young protesters must be heard and their calls for action answered.

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