Young voices like Greta Thunberg are a potent force, so let's give them the vote at 16

PUBLISHED: 17:36 25 September 2019 | UPDATED: 18:08 25 September 2019

A strong message brought to the steps of City Hall in Norwich last Friday at a climate change protest. Picture: Neil Didsbury

A strong message brought to the steps of City Hall in Norwich last Friday at a climate change protest. Picture: Neil Didsbury


Inspired by the rise of Greta Thunberg and the climate change protests in Norwich last week, Rachel Moore says we can no longer underestimate the power of youth

Their world is being ruined - the UN warns that we have just 11 years to make drastic changes or it will be too late - but children pleading for urgent action to their future should apparently be shushed.

Children with opinions, taking interest in the mass melting of glaciers, Amazon fires bleaching of corals and the threat of devastating flooding, gathering information and caring about their world? Whatever next?

One minute young people are berated for goggle-eyed gaming, apathy and laziness, the next they're condemned for getting too involved in grown-up issues and active in caring about their planet's survival.

This 'children should be seen and not heard' and keep out of 'adult issues' is as outdated as the world sustaining more generations of burning coal to keep our lights on.

Millions came out last Friday to support the largest youth-led movement in the world.

Peaceful protest has always been the most powerful force for change. For it to come from children's voices adds to its potency.

Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old who started and is leading the movement is unnerving world leaders, who think it's fine to insult and be rude about her. Fine role models.

One of the placards at Friday's protest said: "We are skipping our lessons to teach you one." Quite.

It's dangerous and short-sighted to dismiss the growing movement as childish protest. We all sit up and listen when David Attenborough warns the same, as if the voice of age and experience is all that counts. We're living in an age when extreme weather is becoming the norm.

Last year carbon emissions reached a record high of 37.1bn tonnes - heading for catastrophe.

Only a few years ago, anyone identifying as 'green' was viewed as alternative, cranky and a 'bean cruncher.'

They were the smart ones, foreseeing the crisis we are in.

Now all our children want is governments to take the crisis seriously to ensure them, their grandchildren and theirs a liveable planet.

The voice of young innocence is a potent force - they are shaming those in power for being dangerously slow to react to warnings, for treating climate change like the last thing on an ever-growing to do list, that consistently drops off and rolls over to the next list.

Children want to see their governments were taking action against CO2 emission and they were falling and made clear commitments to reaching zero net emissions.

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Their activism unnerves those in power. They feel they are losing control.

I've never understood the reluctance to allow 16-year-olds to vote. They are well-informed and, after all, have passion for their future.

Without a say at the ballot box, the only means to getting heard is protest, and the school strike.

What I love about the rise in the children's movement, is how they are educating their parents and grandparents; showing them. How they can make their own differences to how they live and do their own family carbon emission reduction.

It's the biggest issue of their time, and they are on it. We all need to talk about it because it's not going away.

Children working with their families to make differences in their life - leave the car at home, take public transport, train not plane, turn off lights - and making their own reduction targets.

If they feel like they are playing a part, making a difference and being heard, they are part of the movement for change.

Shame on those that believe that and want to stymie their passion to come together to make changes.

By the end of this century, average temperatures on the surface of our planet are predicted to be more than two degrees Celsius or higher than today. The average level of the ocean surface could be more than a metre higher. Such changes will challenge the ways we live now and spell disaster for the future.

The Australian prime minister has accused Thunberg of causing "eco-anxiety" among children and catastrophising to a point that was making other people ill.

Sweeping issues under the carpet is likely to make children and young people more anxious than open discussion and solutions investigation, and including young people in those talks.

It was the same with young people and nuclear weapons and the prospect of war in the late '70s/early '80s. Open discussion allays fear.

Big businesses are learning more and more that working with students brings a fresh dynamic and new ideas to their strategy and actions.

Youth doesn't mean uselessness. Young people bring new perspectives, views and solutions into the mix.

My alma mater, the University of Sheffield, announced this week that it was introducing climate classes for all undergraduates.

It should also be part of the school curriculum.

Governments might be fiddling while the world floods and the rainforests burn, but it gives me hope that children won't let them.

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