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School Strike 4 Climate, 2024

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Last Modified: 5-4-2024 20:52

Marlborough Mayor, Nadine Taylor meets school climate protesters
Marlborough Mayor, Nadine Taylor meets school climate protesters
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

Screaming teenage girls aren’t really my thing. I have one tween, and that’s quite enough, however given the dire predictions of scientists that make Old Testament prophets seem decidedly dull, when it was announced that there was going to be a ‘school strike for climate’, I figured I should lend my support, even though I’m a 50 something bloke, and prefer to work away quietly behind the scenes. The thing is I am going to be the dad of a teenage girl fairly soon, and her future prospects aren’t looking great in a world where scientists, who are notoriously conservative, predict a billion unnecessary deaths over the next century due to human induced climate change. Quite apart from deaths, social instability due to food shortages tends to negatively impact rights for women, and I don’t want my only child to grow up in an unsafe world.

I wasn’t sure if I would make it, as I’ve developed a self-imposed quota on car usage. The two biggest things most people can do to reduce their climate impact is to reduce car use, and reduce the amount of meat, particularly red meat they eat. It doesn’t necessarily mean going car free or vegan, although that’s great for those who can, but just one less car trip, and one less meal with meat per week can make a significant difference, and not only are these changes good for the environment, but they save money as well, whereas solutions such as EVs and solar panels are expensive, and take time to pay back both the financial and environmental cost.

Due to my self-imposed restriction on excessive car use, I wasn’t sure how I was going to get to town, as for the last month, I’ve had quite severe hip pain. In the end I decided I’d ride my bike for the first time in over a month. I knew it was going to hurt, but Blenheim isn’t all that big, and some pain to show support for climate action is nothing compared to the immense suffering that is going to be caused by doing nothing.

I really didn’t think it would be just girls. Last time I attended a ‘climate strike’ was back in 2019, and there seemed to be more people back then. There were parents and young kids, and students spread out over a wider area. That was pre-Covid, and the cost of living crisis, and in that time, nothing has changed, except for the worse, with the number of shiny new utes on the road driven by people who’ll never go off road or need them for work, at record highs.

Marlborough has several high schools, and like most of the rest of the world, roughly half the population is biologically male, and half female, so it was a bit disappointing that not one male student showed up. Presumably they are all more interested in owning big utes or playing video games than having the guts to do anything to look after the planet.

A few adults, mostly quite a bit more mature came to support the students, and to her credit, Marlborough’s mayor came out to meet with them. I recognised a few Climate Karanga Marlborough people, as I’d given a talk to them a few years back on the climate impacts of IT. (It was bad back then, and that was before the massive energy demands of AI).

It was quite poignant, the students gathered on the steps of the war memorial clock tower, with the crosses of those lost in the world wars already standing in preparation for ANZAC Day. Their sacrifice for the security of New Zealanders will have been in vain if rapid action on climate change does not occur.

I’ve recently participated in workshops with the business community group Climate Action Marlborough, and although they might represent a very different demographic to chanting schoolgirls, and ageing environmentalists, it’s clear that there’s an appetite right across the political and demographic spectrum in Marlborough for change. It’s a shame some of the Climate Action Marlborough people weren’t there to support the students.

I come from a background with both faith and science at the centre of my world view, and both the Bible, and physical and life sciences support the principle that caring for the planet is a good idea. Whether you do it to honour God, or do it simply as a means to ensure the survival of your own species, there’s no dispute about the need to be a good planetary citizen.

Trying to claim that there’s nothing wrong with the planet is plain dishonest. Marlborough is in the midst of its worst drought in recorded history. You can’t even let your dog swim in the Wairau River due to toxic algae as a result of unprecedented low water levels. The Wither Hills Farm Park was closed for months, and it’s possible to walk along parts of the Taylor riverbed that I’ve never seen dry before. I should know, because I’ve written a book about the Taylor River, so know it intimately. Parts do dry out, but I’ve never seen anything like this year. Back in winter 2021, my daughter and I went for an overnight trip to the Lower Goulter Hut. The day we came home, it started raining, and didn’t stop until one of the worse floods in years washed out the road we’d recently been on, and the hut was inaccessible for months. The following year, an even worse flood occurred, and the hut remains inaccessible. Of course many people in the Marlborough Sounds lost road access to their properties, but this was my own first hand experience of extreme weather affecting things that are precious to me.

Unfortunately there still seems to be too much denial about climate change, both in New Zealand and around the world. I suspect a lot of those who deny it actually know that it’s happening, but if you look at the demographics of those in power, both in many governments around the world, and as executives of some of the most polluting companies, many are old men, who won’t be around to see the catastrophic legacy they’ve left, so can live it up while life is still comfortable. Of course there are younger ‘tech-bros’ as well, who think that technology can solve any problem, even if the idea of having to build a nuclear power plant bigger than any in existence to run future AI sounds ridiculous to pretty much anyone with some actual human intelligence, and probably to the AI they want to build too, if it has any actual intelligence.

Humans need to learn to live well with less. We did so in the past. My parents were preschoolers during WWII. Things were rationed, neighbours helped each other out, kids learnt to make their own entertainment. There were no computers, no internet, and having a car in a family was a luxury. There were bad things too like cold houses, diseases that can now be prevented by vaccination, and racist attitudes, but these things can be fixed without having to trash the planet.

A game of cards with some friends can be just as entertaining as binge watching some streaming series, for a fraction of the climate impact, so why don’t we do it? Instead of jumping on a plane to go off and attend some megastar rock concert, why don’t we gather round with musical mates and have a good jam session? Do we really need to depend on ‘social media’, which uses huge data centres, creates privacy, mental health, and polarisation issues, to be social?Instead of buying plastic packaged food that has travelled vast distances, could we just buy raw ingredients and do a big bake up once a week or fortnight with some friends?

The solutions to climate change aren’t rocket science, they’re accessible now, but it’s a question of whether people are prepared to make the lifestyle changes to make it happen.

As they say about capitalism, ‘the market knows best’, so no matter how much corporates want to pollute, if the market no longer wants what they have to offer, and refuses to accept greenwashing, then they either adapt or die. The collapse of a few megacorporations would be preferable to the deaths of a billion or more humans.

The bunch of loud schoolgirls amplified many times over, and translated into not just audible noise, but also consumer decisions and political action might just change the world.

If not, I see dead people.

Cite this page

Cookson, C. (2024). School Strike 4 Climate, 2024. Retrieved May, 26, 2024, from https://www.marlboroughonline.co.nz/marlborough/information/commentary/school-strike-4-climate-2024

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