Speaking truth to power : why solidarity between generations matters

Abel Harvie-Clark & friend with a home-built sound system used at rallies across the region 
 
Photo by Dom Kilbane

Friday September 25th is the second Global Day of Climate Action initiated by Fridays For Future, the movement that began when one concerned child refused to go to school and stood alone outside her national parliament in Stockholm on August 20th 2018 with a simple black and white placard that read ‘Skolstrejk för klimatet’ (‘School strike for climate’). Greta Thunberg is now a household name, having mobilised millions of children and young people around the world, demonstrating that the climate emergency is the number one issue that concerns young people – but it should concern all of us. 

I have been proud to stand on a platform with extraordinary motivated and articulate young people, and to move over and give them the microphone or loudhailer. We need to listen and pay attention not always to be the ones talking. Too often people of my generation dismiss the youth voice, forgetting that we were all young once with important views, relevant ideas and a fresh perspective that can cut through the layers of waffle and bluster that so many politicians choose to employ.

Young people like Malala Yousuf and Greta Thunberg have been challenging perceptions and ruffling feathers for a few years now, particularly amongst the elite whether it be war lords or presidents. And in their wake come people like Abel Harvie-Clark, inspired to act and not simply to join in the adulation. Abel is a north east member of the UK Student Climate Action Network which I have been supporting since it first emerged in December 2018 and subsequently became one of the main organisations behind the September 2019 Earth Strike, the first General Strike to happen in the UK since 1926. 

I was pleased to be invited to speak at the UKSCN Climate March in Leeds last summer, but I also went to listen because it’s the years of continually being ignored, dismissed, belittled and patronised that make young people so angry. If you have done your homework, as Abel and millions of other climate strikers have, you know that if atmospheric CO2 levels exceed 1200 parts per million (ppm) it could push the Earth’s climate to a tipping point with deadly and irreversible consequences. In fact we may already be too late as scientists reported last year.


Every major crisis has profound consequences for the next generation. The financial crisis resulted in mass youth unemployment, Tory austerity devastated the youth service, Sure Start centres and child and adolescent mental health services, whilst hiking up university fees and creating mass unsustainable student debt. Covid-19 has put much education on hold and the climate crisis is an existential threat. Why wouldn’t you strike? Why wouldn’t you lie down in the corridors of power? Why wouldn’t you demand that politicians tell the truth and polluters stop polluting? I and a growing number of terrified older people are thankful that young people at least are not afraid to speak truth to power.

I have been proud to stand on a platform with extraordinary motivated and articulate young people, and to move over and give them the microphone or loudhailer. We need to listen and pay attention not always to be the ones talking. Too often people of my generation dismiss the youth voice, forgetting that we were all young once with important views, relevant ideas and a fresh perspective that can cut through the layers of waffle and bluster that so many politicians choose to employ.

Julie and a grandparent climate activist
at Arendalsuka, Democracy Festival in Arendal, Norway 2019
Photo by Elise Sijthoff

In March 2019 I was in the European Parliament when Greta Thunberg spoke to a packed room. Her words made uncomfortable listening precisely because she speaks the truth, not only about what will happen if we don’t act, but about large-scale political failure.

In the UK Thunberg was flatly refused an audience with the government although Jeremy Corbyn and Caroline Lucas met with her and huge crowds mobilised at meetings in Bristol and elsewhere in solidarity across the country. Trump, the Tories and the ultra-libertarians (many of whom are climate-change denying Brexiteers) are dismissive and mocking of Thunberg precisely because she is young, as if youth has no agency and child rights were not an actual thing despite 30 years of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

These are the same people who don’t want young people to vote. The same people berating youth for being idle and feckless. The same people encouraging you to join the army and learn some discipline. Indeed, in the UK, we may be in danger of something akin to National Service as part of the recovery programme post-coronavirus whereas EU Member States are rolling out a new enlightened youth initiative aimed at environmental volunteering, projects to help refugees, and other social actions.

 Abel has already joined up the dots between the multiple crises facing us. “The conservative idea that we face a choice between protecting good jobs and taking action to tackle climate change is a serious distraction from an urgently needed ambition to organise for a worker-led Green New Deal,” he says and goes on to argue, “Ecologically unsafe work should be rejected on grounds of the health and safety threat to all workers, and socially useful work or retraining should be demanded as a guarantee. From manufacturing electric buses for a vastly expanded, free public transport network, to filling the 100,000 shortage of staff in the NHS, or investing in the arts and culture, there is plenty of work to be done. But reorganising production and public services to benefit people and planet, at the cost of capital, cannot be won without a fight.”

So let’s build the resistance by building solidarity between all generations and all people. Let’s act locally whilst being outward-looking. Let’s be proudly internationalist global citizens who will fight for a just regenerative green recovery for all.

For more information about how to support the global action whatever your age here are some links:

Fridays for Future

UK Student Action Climate Network

Parents for Future

Grandparents Climate Action (Campaign against Climate Change)

Global Climate Strike

Letters to the Earth

Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill

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