Sanity and other things lacking

Students of Citadel High School in Halifax take part in School Strike For Climate on March 15, 2019.

The harm we’ve done our atmosphere is one of the most thoroughly studied phenomena in human history, the subject of international scientific inquiry and consensus for decades now.

The same ironclad scientific methodology which allowed us to reach the moon, land rovers on Mars, exchange our thoughts by way of smartphones and Internet, split the atom and computerize our economy is telling us, without a shadow of doubt, dissension or ambiguity, that we are killing our planet, and that the hard won privileges of modern living – security of food, water, home and civility – will be the cost.

To deny this is as silly as denying the colour of a zebra’s stripes, the results of last night’s hockey game, the spherical shape of our planet or the existence of the Eiffel Tower, and yet people do with some routine, within politics and without, either underplaying the demonstrated calamities we’ve made possible, or refusing to acknowledge climate change with organized stupidity and stubbornness. In a fashion it is like denying the Holocaust, as the loss of life will be greater, and the cultural scars will be deeper.

To understand all this, to accept and internalize the scientific consensus, shows in one’s character. Economic arguments for business-as-usual begin to fall flat and reek of falsehood, political excuses for the dismantling of our natural heritage insights rage against an uneducated leadership, and widespread denial of the speed or severity of the climate crisis weighs heavily on the soul. Imagine an asteroid hurdling toward the planet with apocalyptic intent as your MLA explains with statistics from the 1940s why the solutions are too much trouble.

When faced with the madness I’ve described, threatening the prosperity for which we’ve worked so hard and for so many generations, there is only one truly sane course of action – to insist on dramatic and enlightened change, and insist loudly.

Last fall an organization called Extinction Rebellion (XR) made headlines when they blockaded bridges, glued themselves to buildings, hosted die-ins, occupied public spaces and welcomed arrest while demanding the drastic changes needed to secure a sustainable future, their efforts huge, international and continuous. I watched in awe as their non-violent direction actions brought major cities to a screaming halt for days at a time, compelling media and leadership alike to take them seriously.

Here in Nova Scotia XR has stopped traffic and earned impromptu audiences with government, media and even power utilities. A few of its members stepped in front of Justin Trudeau’s motorcade when he visited Antigonish, forcing our Prime Minister to take notice. Such actions, while in violation of the social niceties designed to soften inconvenient voices, are more than justified considering the scale of the crisis, and the lethargy with which it’s being treated. They’re preparing themselves for further action this October, and XR is not the only rebellion on the block.

In 2018 a young Swedish girl by the name of Greta Thunberg likewise answered the call of sanity. Appalled by the stagnation of governments in addressing the climate crisis, she refused to attend school for three weeks leading up to the Swedish general election, instead sitting outside the country’s national legislature with a sign reading “school strike for the climate.” After the election, she began striking every Friday, in so doing inspiring millions of students across the planet to follow suit, a movement known variously as Fridays For Future, School Strike For Climate or Youth For Climate.

Again, such efforts have reached Nova Scotia, as Halifax students have already declined several days of education to demand a livable future. Greta, now the figurehead for this international movement, identified September 20-27 as a week long action for all participating schools, which those in Halifax are supporting. On the 20th, they and partnering organizations, including XR, will launch a series of events highlighting the climate crisis throughout the week, building up attention and support for their general strike on Friday, September 27.

That day, all interested parties, be them child or adult, will meet in Victoria Square at 11 a.m. For details on this event and others through the week, visit: novastrike.earth, and all ages are welcome to all events. Funny enough, the day chosen for this general strike by Greta happens to be a PD day in Nova Scotia, so our students will not technically be skipping school this time, but the spirit of the day holds.

The response to these striking students has thus far been lacklustre. Most politicians and industry heads have greeted their efforts with hollow words of encouragement, patting them on the head in lieu of listening. Others have greeted them with scorn and ridicule. I couldn’t believe my eyes when reading the response of some school administrators to these strikes, blustering on about the importance of an education for the future of these children while flagrantly disregarding the quality of world we expect them to inherit. Should we not applaud, even encourage such boldness in the face of apathetic self-destruction?

Then, of course, there’s Maxime Bernier, head of the People’s Party of Canada, accusing 16-year-old Greta of environmental hysteria brought about by mental illness, meeting the courage and resolve of an entire generation with inhumane vitriol. XR members have likewise been branded as ecoterrorists or environmental wackos, which is altogether reductive, detached, denigrating, and absurd.

As more and more people come to grips with the scale of the climate crisis, and find the time and strength to take part in demanding substantial and substantive change, I invite everyone to consider the follow: How harshly would you critique those brave women and men who led the suffrage movement in Canada and elsewhere, fighting to improve equality between sexes with exactly this brand of tactic and virtue? How about those who fought for civil rights, once met with vindictive legal action and now adorning our $10 bill? We honour their efforts in retrospect for shaping a better and more just world in spite of the inconveniences they caused, a courtesy we can and must extend to those fighting now for our collective futures.

Zack Metcalfe is a freelance journalist, columnist and author active across the Maritimes. He can be reached at: zack.metcalfe@gmail.com.