Student climate protest

Ella DeGrandpre, top right, sits on the shoulders of Aileen Beaton as the two Hellgate High School seniors lead a chant in front of the Missoula County Courthouse in March 2019. Students from Hellgate and Big Sky high schools joined students around the country in a march demanding action on climate change.

When your house is on fire, do you shut up and do nothing?

During September’s Climate Strike Rally in Missoula, high school and college students vented anger and frustration with hundreds of supporters, in solidarity with the Global Climate Strike rallies attended by millions and initiated by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old who has taken the climate change movement by storm.

Thunberg is a beacon for a generation inheriting a dire mess they are not responsible for. Climate woke, crisis shocked. Youth will no longer be led by the climate movement, but are becoming leaders.

Missoula students quoted Thunberg: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day, and now I want you to act.” Thunberg is outraged because adults have failed the generations to come.

Not everyone, of course. Scientists have diligently researched for decades and shared warnings about the growing climate crisis. But relatively few have paid close attention, and many outright evil people have worked diligently to undermine their hard work.

In fact, over 50% of greenhouse gases emitted by humanity since the advent of the industrial age have come in the last 30 years. Over half in one generation! In the 1988 summer that NASA’s James Hansen testified to Congress that climate change presented an impending danger, executives at big oil companies decided to ignore similar conclusions from their own climate research scientists, and embarked on a calculated campaign of disinformation, the genesis of the never-ending "debate" about facts.

Lies upon lies servicing greed and short-term profit from fossil fuels, a profit off the lives of the future.

The existential crisis we face is devastating. The status quo trajectory by the end of the 21st century will reshape our planet into a world we won’t recognize.

This new generation is not politely asking for change, they are demanding change.

Speakers at the Missoula rally railed, “We are sacrificing our future, for you.

“We are standing up because you have taken a seat in a burning house, our house.”

Youth blame fossil fuel corporations, politicians, the media and the education system for perpetuating the status quo, and a capitalist system “that is destroying the planet and taking away our futures.”

Friday school strikes will continue indefinitely. Towards the end of the rally, a student read a group letter to the Missoula County Public Schools superintendent and educators:

“You should accept this difficult conclusion we made to strike and work with us to develop a meaningful curriculum which gives Missoula students the knowledge and skills we need to solve this crisis. We are saddened to learn as our educational leaders you are directing the district to be viewpoint neutral.”

"Viewpoint neutral" has made sure that climate change is framed as a debate, not science, leaving potential solutions on an endless treadmill to nowhere.

Decade by decade, in lockstep, greenhouse gas emissions go up, CO2 atmospheric levels go up, and the global average temperature goes up. Our population and consumption go up too. We are failing to confront the crisis.

The special Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report of Sept. 25 confirms that climate change is happening much faster than expected.

As Thunberg said to the United Nations two days prior, “You are failing us. But the young people of the world are starting to understand your betrayal…. And if you choose to fail us I say we will never forgive you. We will not let you get away with this…. The world is waking up. And change is coming whether you like it or not.”


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RL Scholl has an MS in the University of Montana’s Environmental Studies Program, and is the author of "Alberton, Montana: Anatomy of a Toxic Train Wreck," a free book-blog at albertonmontanathebook.com.

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