Have you ever seen a house on fire? The majority of people standing around will gawk at the blaze, waiting for another person to put it out while the flames eat away at the house’s structure. In the climate crisis, many adults, even educators, are doing just that: gawking at student protestors who are trying to save their home. But it doesn’t have to be like this. If educators and students work together, we can magnify our power and pass meaningful climate legislation to save our planet from the clutches of the climate crisis.
According to organizers, more than 7 million people protested around the world during the week of Global Climate Strikes last month, many of whom were students advocating for a better future. The strike, which is now the largest climate strike in history, was galvanized by high schooler Greta Thunberg. So many of us students see ourselves in Greta’s reflection—a young, almost cynical generation whose future has been stolen for the profit of big oil and gas execs. Profit-driven corporations have polluted the environment to the point that the United Nations has given us only 11 years before we cause “irreversible damage from climate change.” Students like Thunberg saw this and decided to act, which led to the Global Climate Strike, which occurred in at least 100 countries.
To supplement the Sept. 20th Global Climate Strike in New York City, local strikes were organized—including by Alliance for Climate Education Fellows like us—that same day. Held during school hours, many students had to face the dilemma of missing classwork or protesting for their future. Some of them had the opportunity to choose to protest with their school, but others did not. If young activists are to continue their work, educators must be willing to provide the resources and opportunities to do so. Students must be encouraged in taking a stand for an issue they believe in. In the long run, the value of real-life experience of fighting for our rights will always outweigh completing a worksheet. Making sure that students know the influence of their opinions will allow students to leave school with a mindset of self-growth and critical reflection.
Organizations like ACE can also give young activists a voice in our current, chaotic political landscape. Educators should encourage all students, and not just politically minded ones, to join social organizations to make real change in the world. By doing this, educators can inspire students to transform entire fields, mobilizing entire continents to do something about the climate crisis.
In giving students and young activists the means to act on our biggest threat to survival, you’re letting us do something about our dismal-looking futures. Right now, the climate crisis is poised to cause worldwide human suffering from food shortages, rising sea levels, and increasingly intense natural disasters, among its many other effects. Educators and mentors must also have a role in ensuring a future for the next generation. By empowering student activists and partnering with them to do something while our house is burning down, we might actually be able to put out this fire.
A version of this article appeared in the October 23, 2019 edition of Education Week as Stop Gawking at Student Protesters