I happened to be downtown in Montpelier a few days ago, when some young people, taking their cues from Extinction Rebellion, shut down our main crossroads for a bit.
They were polite and direct in their demands that all of us need to recognize how much disruption we are about to experience from the climate crisis. These engaged youth had the effrontery to disrupt the downtown traffic for a brief period. Motorists demanded that they, “Get out of the road!”
This interruption of normal commerce and traffic was critical to the young protesters’ goal of announcing and promoting the Sept 20 Climate Strike. This nationwide event will include more serious disruptions to our “Business as Usual” approach to the climate crisis. Listening to the concerns and demands of these youth, I was struck by the clarity of their understanding and the sophistication of their approach.
Both a Times Argus article and an editorial on this protest gave due notice of the frustration of those who thought they had the right to pass through town unobstructed. It was clear that these disrupted travelers completely missed the message of this protest. But then, most people still miss the message.
Sure, it’s impolite to close the streets. But our best scientists are telling us that our probable future, radically damaged by the climate crisis, is going to be a lot more disrupted and impolite. That damaged future is being forced on these young people, and it is one they would just as soon rather not inhabit.
This is the rub of our current moment. There is no nice and polite way of avoiding the arc of disaster, along which we are heedlessly rushing.
I was impressed with the understanding these youngsters displayed talking about an economic disaster along with a climate disaster. And, yes, the more damage and disruption the climate crisis brings, the more our current economy will experience failure in so many ways. There is one school of thought, offered by the comedian Bill Maher, that an economic collapse is the only thing that will save us.
We must recognize that our climate destruction necessarily grows out of an economy that depends on “growth.” Our economy demands constantly more consumption, more debt, and, yes, more carbon pollution to keep its wheels turning.
Afraid that disruptive economic changes were immanent and being good 21st century American believers in progress, our leaders convinced us that such a terrible future is unthinkable.
No worries, our clever engineers are going to figure out technical fixes to avoid disaster. Magic technologies would come along to clean the atmosphere. We were told that all we had to do was become greener consumers, with reusable shopping bags and demand solar power. Things will even get better still if we all would just drive electric cars and switch to a vegan diet. Sadly, even if the green do-gooders make the right choices, it’s going to be too little too late.
Creating change through consumer choices is the core of our economic beliefs. This is fine as long as we continue to delude ourselves. We can ignore the laws of physics that will limit the capacity of new massive machines to economically clean the atmosphere.
This is not to say that technologies might be created to counter the carbon pollution just not in the 10 years we have left to stop reaching the tipping point projected in most crisis scenarios. The sad truth is that we cannot save the climate with our current, consumption based, economic system, and that is part of the crisis looming over our youth.
Then our young protesters noted another hugely disruptive thought. Our education system is not giving them the tools to survive in a climate- changed future.
Like our economic assumptions, we view education needs through a rear-view mirror. What worked in the past is what we agree people need to be trained for in the future. But life in an overheated world with constant weather and financial emergencies will radically disrupt our food systems, our infrastructure and our technologies. We need to join the youth in re-thinking our schooling to stress adaptation and security in this emerging emergency scenario.
All over our state our local schools demand the bulk of our taxes, yet we continue to train people for life in a technological, consumerist society. Current education is a tool for that perpetuating the very system creating the climate crisis.
These wonderful youth, taking to the streets are asking us to stop our headlong rush to destruction. They are reminding us all that we must disrupt our comfortable assumptions. They are demanding we have a vigorous public dialogue on how we build a future in which these children and theirs can live in a future with a modicum of security and civility. It’s a discussion that has to happen now.
Dan Jones lives in Montpelier.