Protests and action on climate change
Sir, – It was extraordinary to see leading politicians supporting the decision by parents and teachers to allow thousands of children to leave school to protest against climate change.
What kind of precedent does this set? And who decides what is and isn’t acceptable to protest against? And is it only politically correct causes which students will be encouraged to take to the streets?
For instance, if there had been an exodus from classrooms last year to call for a No vote in the abortion referendum, or if children mounted a protest this week in favour of a no-deal Brexit and a hard border, would the Taoiseach and Government Minsters be issuing gushing statements praising them for their courage?
It’s far more likely that we would hear hand-wringing about children being unfairly involved in controversial political issues, and the impact that lost school days might have on their education.
Politicians are more than happy to patronise the enthusiasm of young people, but only so long as it suits their own political agenda.
According to the CSO, over 60 per cent of children are driven to school by car while just 25 per cent walk or cycle to school. Rather than leaving school to protest against climate change, shouldn’t these high-minded children lead by example and walk to school instead, thereby making a drastic cut to Ireland’s emissions output?
The phrase “when pigs fly” springs to mind. – Yours, etc,
THOMAS RYAN BL,
Sir, – The recent “global school strike for climate action” demonstration was acknowledged by much of the political establishment and media to be a worthy pursuit on the part of young people. I detected a hint of patronisation in some of the coverage. I am not so sure the momentum created will fizzle out. I certainly hope that this is just the beginning of an awakening.
There is consensus by most with an interest in climate action that all countries must live up to the 2016 Paris Agreement goal of limiting the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Following the success of the protest, the challenge is how to convert the demands for action into a series of tangible campaigns that will reduce carbon emissions. Travelling to school using sustainable transport methods like walking and cycling is an action that all students could more readily embrace.
A safer cycling environment can make a significant reduction to transport based CO2 emissions and pollution. In Ireland’s car centric culture, many students are still dropped off to school by car.
In my experience as a cycling commuter over 10 years, cycling remains relatively hazardous and until it is actively promoted as the preferred mode of transport over other fossil fuel modes, commuting behaviours will remain relatively unchanged. Leadership and vision on the part of government and policymakers are required to prioritise investment in the transport infrastructure needed to boost the growth of cycling and ultimately to make cycling to school and work relatively safe.
When cycling is perceived to be a safe pursuit, more students will opt to cycle to school. More motorists will consider cycling to work. This has the potential to dramatically reduce the number of car journeys to and from schools and workplaces all over Ireland. None of this will ever be achieved as long as cycling continues to receive a paltry 2 per cent of the land transport budget.
This is something for all students with an interest in climate action to be exercised about. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Kevin Nolan (March 19th) is correct to point out that the lifestyles of many of the young people who participated in recent protests on climate change contribute significantly to the increasing harm to our environment.
While it can be doubted that elements of such a lifestyle which he highlights, such as family car ownership, the purchase of food in supermarkets and travel abroad are entirely the result of the individual choices of the schoolchildren, to the extent that they have some input into those choices they too contribute to climate change.
However, it is unfair to treat the recent protests as a “superficial blame game of past generations” and a “populist social media campaign”. The observation that schoolchildren contribute by their individual choices, as do we all, in climate change misses the point that the protest is directed at our collective decisions, that is, the policy and actions by the government in all our names. These collective decisions are important in mitigating climate change not only in themselves, but by making the ecological choice the rational one at the level of the individual.
Of course, those orchestrating the protests could instead direct their time towards reflecting on how they live their own lives and the lifestyle choices they make instead, but that does not mean that seeking to change government policy is superficial or pointless.
Mr Nolan’s assertion that “marches on Government won’t fix it” is partially correct in highlighting that government action is perhaps not sufficient to make meaningful progress on climate change, but misses the obvious point that it is at the very least necessary to do so. While the schoolchildren conducting these demonstrations are complicit in individual decisions that cause harm to the environment, the same cannot be said for their role in these important collective decisions, given that they are not given the entitlement to participate in our democratic decisions.
Here the “blame game” is not superficial, but real. In the absence of a ballot box to turn to, who can blame them for protesting in the street? – Yours, etc,