Fintan O’Toole: Shame on us for forcing children to wake us up to climate change

We have failed to protect our children – now we are looking to them to protect us

A float depicting Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg during the annual Rose Monday parade in Duesseldorf, Germany, on Monday. Photograph: Kirsten Neumann/EPA

A float depicting Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg during the annual Rose Monday parade in Duesseldorf, Germany, on Monday. Photograph: Kirsten Neumann/EPA

Are we so far sunk into indolence and fatalism that we need our own children to save us? The schoolkids’ strikes to demand action on climate change are both heartening and shaming. Heartening because they speak of a generation that is willing to fight for its own future. Shaming because they reverse the proper order of things. We adults are supposed to protect our children and grandchildren. It seems, however, that we need them to protect us.  

 I keep thinking these days of Pieter Breughel’s great painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus. It deals with the ancient Greek story of Daedalus, who made wings of wax and feathers that allowed his beloved son, Icarus, to fly. The father warned the son not to fly too close to the sun, but in his delight and exuberance Icarus did so anyway. The wax melted, the wings lost their power and poor boy plunged to his death. The story has always been a warning about technological hubris and the need for humanity to understand and respect the limits of nature.

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