It’s the worst and best thing in the world to be a parent of a climate striker.
Almost every Friday evening this summer, my 15-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter attended meetings to plan the Sept. 20 climate strike in the Duncan City Square. Like the first one last May, this strike succeeded in attracting several hundred students and almost as many adult supporters. I was once again overcome with pride to see my kids on stage explaining why they are striking (my son: avoid economic calamity; my daughter: curtail species extinction).
Yet, unlike attending a piano recital or soccer game, watching your kids participate in a climate strike is also soul-wrenching. My daughter marched with a homemade sign that read: “Fighting for Our Future.” Feeling the need to call on grownups to stop stealing their future is certainly not the sort of childhood I had envisioned for my kids.
There has, of course, always been stuff for tweens and teens to be scared about. My parents had the duck-and-cover fears of the Cold War going thermonuclear. The Jonestown massacre, Three Mile Island and the Khmer Rouge all freaked me out — not to mention a serial killer in my area targeting kids my age. Other generations have had the Vietnam War, AIDS or Al-Qaeda to worry about.
But none of these threats were as inevitable, invisible and seemingly irreversible as today’s climate emergency.
The worst part is to know that they know we have failed them. Being a so-called climate parent can be painful.
It hurts to think of what awaits them: the wildfire smoke that will fill their lungs, the species that they will watch disappear, and the unimaginable chaos leading to and resulting from possibly more than one billion climate refugees. It also hurts when grownups post insults directed at my kids and their fellow strike organizers. Most of all, it hurts when my kids say they don’t want to become parents because it wouldn’t be right to bring new life into a dying world.
And yet, as I watched groups of students enter the Duncan City Square on September 20, I felt sort of giddy. That’s because while kids are usually giant super balls of energy bouncing wildly in all directions, when that energy is channelled in a positive direction, anything seems possible.
I spoke with a number of student strikers and even as they expressed their fears, sadness and anger, they didn’t seem defeated. Although climate strikes bring home the magnitude of the challenge, it’s a rare opportunity for youth to be heard and experience their collective power.
My kids got involved of their own volition, through one of my daughter’s friends who invited her to join the local Earth Guardians chapter. My wife, who has been working on climate engagement for 15 years and knows the toll it can take on adults, had major trepidations. But at the May strike, when she witnessed how empowered our kids felt, she concluded that “they are better off being aware and engaged than not.”
Several of my daughter’s Grade 6 classmates have joined her at the strikes and their parents have all reported that it’s been a great experience for the girls — and presumably more educational than staying in class.
Still, it’s a lot to process for an 11-year-old. The day after the latest climate strike, my daughter asked me if I thought Greta Thunberg would be killed.
I knew she was thinking about Martin Luther King, Jr. being killed for leading a movement for change. I tried to assure her that this was a different situation (though honestly who knows; today’s youth aren’t the only ones with a lot at stake). Regardless, it’s incredibly disturbing that this is a thought that even crosses her young mind.
It really stinks that student climate strikers feel such a heavy burden. But on the other hand, they would probably feel even more weighed down if they didn’t feel they could do something about it, to give themselves a shot at a sustainable and equitable future. The connections they are making, the lessons they are learning, and the hope that taking action is providing them seems worth it.
I look forward to continuing to support them, because actually the worst thing would be if my kids lost that hope and stopped fighting for their future. [end]
Resources: For Our Kids, a recently formed group in Canada for climate parents.
David Minkow is a contributing journalist for The Discourse Cowichan.
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