On Friday 15 March, millions and millions of students from thousands of schools across the world will go on strike, filling the streets with marches. They will be joined by many other citizens who share their anger and aims. The students’ anger stems from seeing their future stolen from them by the apathy and complicity of the global ruling classes, in particular those who manage finance and economics at the expense of our planet and its inhabitants. Their aim is to force the fight against climate change to the top of the agenda of national governments, international institutions, cities, entrepreneurial groups, trade unions and political groups.
In just a few months, this objective has led thousands of young people to desert their lessons and respond to the appeal launched by Swedish student Greta Thunberg. Her decision to skip school every Friday and take to the streets to protest has shaken many people into action. This is no longer just about ensuring tolerable conditions for the much-evoked “future generations” to live in and coexist. No – this is already about the generation entering life now and the recognition that our weakness and apathy will bequeath them a living hell. Many have already fallen victim: the only plausible explanation of the origins and scale of the migratory phenomenon – the only thing that currently concerns governments and political groups the world over – is that it is an effect of a problem rather than a cause of one.
A generational conflict has never appeared more radical. If, as is both right and probable, this young people’s movement continues to grow in size, radicalism, and its ability to communicate itself, it will replace the political groups “in opposition” that employ the same tired slogans, personalities and initiatives. This movement can reverse the seemingly unstoppable trends that are leading the world towards an abyss of nationalism, racism, cynicism, ignorance and resignation. These currents cannot be fought on a national level, or even on a European level. They need to be fought on a global battlefield; and it is here that the movement Greta Thunberg set in motion is winning hearts and minds. For the time being, this “uprising” has no other agenda beyond the act of protest. However, it corresponds exactly to what some “militant” environmentalists and, above all, scientists have been saying for decades. These groups have been trying to convey the scale of the problem to governments, the media, entrepreneurs, businesspeople, and above all, to that section of public opinion that can still be reached through associations. Due to a complete betrayal on the part of those responsible for disseminating information, the majority of citizens have been encouraged to ignore, underestimate or forget the issue. However, while the causes and dynamics of climate change are clear and accessible to anyone who looks, the answers to it are still a big grey area.
Merely abandoning fossil fuels as soon as possible and moving to renewable sources is only part of the story. As Naomi Klein explains in This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, a change in direction will require a radical relocation of power from current centralised structures to the community. This needs to happen across all the main sectors of production and land management. Systems of self-government still remain largely incomplete; institutional democratisation in both the public sphere and the private sector (for businesses, corporations and finance – at least for those above a certain size), still needs to take place. All this means that it is no use waiting for the “green economy” to happen while viewing ecological change like a business. If this was ever going to happen, it would have by now.
But how do we effect change? How do we translate the information coming from the evident unsustainability of the way we currently run our economies and governments into programmes, plans, concrete results and democratic systems of management? Despite the notable efforts of a few committed experts and many associations and committees who have developed models we can follow, above all in agriculture and food, the bulk of the work still lies ahead. Today however marks the point when we can really grapple with the issue in concrete terms; not just in the future but right here and now, through a younger generation who have grasped the scale of the problem. Doing so highlights the distance between “politics” – both government and opposition – and the issues raised by the birth of this movement. This uprising has little in common with the narrow grouping of parties, journalists, industry, trade unions, ministers and flunkies who have started following the protest for the high-speed Turin-Lyon line rather than Greta Thunberg. In their eyes, the future of Italy – its development, environment and wellbeing – depends on a railway tunnel (which may enter into operation in 15 years, maybe never). Is there any better illustration of how far apart this new generation’s agenda and urgency is from the narrow-mindedness of older generations than this descent into collective delirium? The same older generations are dragging everyone and everything towards the brink of environmental disaster, while serving up a poorly-masked and no less devastating mix of identity politics and racism.
Translation from Italian by Malcolm Gilmour