As we move beyond Christmas and start to look ahead to the new decade, I find myself winding the clock backwards, to when I was Greta Thunberg’s age.
The climate-change activist, recently named as TIME Magazine’s youngest-ever Person of the Year, will turn 17 three days into 2020. Her past year’s highlights included a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize, a worldwide school-strike movement, and a stinging address to world leaders at the UN Climate Action Summit this past September.
When I was 16 going on 17, I was trying not to flunk my Physics and Chemistry classes. I had never been anywhere outside of Nova Scotia or Prince Edward Island. I couldn’t even conceive that I might have anything important to say, or that anybody might want to hear it.
However, I was learning to question authority. Mind you, I was a few years later than Greta, who started pressuring her parents to reduce their carbon footprint and stop using air travel at the age of eight. (I was astounded to learn that her mother left her career as a professional opera singer to make this happen.)
Still, as a teenager in the late ‘80s, I knew something wasn’t right in Nova Scotia, in Canada, and around the world.
Maybe it was the influence of my family, particularly my Grandpere, who held court at his L’Ardoise home every Sunday as relatives gathered for a post-Mass dissection of all things political. Perhaps I was learning from my comedic heroes – MAD Magazine, Royal Canadian Air Farce, Double Exposure, The Cape Breton Summertime Revue, General John Cabot Trail, and then-rookie cartoonist Bruce MacKinnon – that our leaders and their policies were hardly perfect.
A month after my 16th birthday, three federal candidates for the riding of Cape Breton Highlands-Canso visited St. Peter’s District High School. The budding political activist in me volleyed seven questions at the incumbent MP, concerning everything from the pending U.S.-Canada free trade agreement, to the Meech Lake Constitutional Accord.
I would later hear, from a classmate of mine who happened to support this candidate, that the MP allegedly “felt sorry” for me, even remarking: “I hope I wasn’t too hard on him.”
A month later, that MP’s one term in Ottawa was over.
Now, I don’t bring this up to cast the teenage version of myself as a wannabe political warrior, but to demonstrate that this was the limit of my bravery in terms of taking on our leaders.
My frustrations with the world – and our corner of the world – weren’t channelled into petitions, running for office, or launching worldwide school strikes. I blew off steam in creative ways – as a political cartoonist (for The Reporter and a handful of Halifax magazines between 1988 and 2001), a song parodist, a newspaper columnist, a blogger, and a comedy-sketch writer for one of our local theatre groups. As a journalist, I kept my personal opinions or biases out of my work in the hopes that presenting the pure, unadulterated truth would encourage readers and listeners to ask the questions and take up the causes that I, as a basic condition of my trade, wasn’t able to do.
My teenage self couldn’t visualize going halfway around the world to chastise adults for destroying the planet. I would have crumbled at the thought that several industry and world leaders – even the President of the United States – would dismiss me as a pampered, privileged child, and order me to go watch a movie with my friends instead of fighting for what I believed. (Especially when the “beliefs” were rooted in actual, undeniable scientific research.)
But Greta did.
And even as she told the media in mid-December that she would be “taking a holiday break” from her intense schedule of global climate-change activism, she just as quickly insisted that she’ll be picking up the cause again.
That’s a relief. Our overheated, rhetoric-heavy, intensely partisan world needs Greta. And it needs young voices.
It needs the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, who responded to multiple deaths in a shooting at their school nearly two years ago with a concerted – and outright angry – campaign against gun violence.
It needs the next generation of the Me To We movement. In 1995, its co-founder, Craig Kielburger, was badgering then-PM Jean Chretien on the steps of Parliament Hill at the age of 12 to help end child labour around the world. (That’s something else Teenage Adam couldn’t have ever imagined himself doing.)
If you’re an adult hunting for a New Year’s Resolution, consider applauding and supporting the revolution our younger generation is leading, and give them some credit and support. And no matter what age you happen to be, consider joining the revolution instead of stubbornly remaining part of the problem.
Happy New Decade, everybody.