Nature and Priorities of the Next Generation
Love for God’s creation is an admirable thing. It is also something at which human beings routinely fail. And thus, there is a need for environmental activism, aimed at promoting a proper respect for the earth, and the responsible use of its resources. But there is something about these recent “Global Climate Strikes” – which have seen millions of students around the world skip school to protest against climate change – that have left me frustrated and deeply worried.
Environmental issues, and especially issues related to the global climate, are complex. Brilliant scientists disagree on how to interpret the data. And well-meaning people can disagree significantly on what, precisely, the best solution to any given environmental issue might be. However, the rhetoric behind these Climate Strikes suggest that in many cases children in schools are being taught, and in turn are parroting, a grossly simplistic, one-sided, and hysteria-based interpretation, often mixed with various forms of radical leftist economic and social ideology.
Indeed, one sometimes cynically suspects that the radical leftist economic and social ideology, rather than concern for the environment, may in fact be the whole point. Consider, for instance, the “about” section of the Canadian website for the Global Climate Strikes. “Climate justice is about more than greenhouse gas emissions: it’s about workers’ rights and economic justice. It’s about the rights of Indigenous peoples and migrants. It’s about anti-racism and social justice. Each battle is entangled within another, and victory is only possible if we fight all of them as a unified entity.”
Given the sheer scope of issues mentioned in those few sentences, I would not at all be surprised to be told that such things as fighting for “transgender rights,” or “abortion rights” are also an absolutely essential element of tackling climate change. (That is, in fact, precisely what we often do find.) If everything is about the environment, then nothing is about the environment. Nevertheless, the ideologues in our classrooms, and the ideologues in government who enthusiastically promoted these Climate Strikes, wear the straightest of faces when they assure our schoolchildren that they must accede to the whole panoply of progressive values, and that if they do not, the planet will surely burn.
Unmasking Indoctrination and Its Consequences
This indoctrination is having very real negative consequences in the lives of children. Consider these lines from a National Geographic article about children who get involved in environmental activism. They report: “more than a few teens who began as fervent activists have dropped out, citing depression, anxiety, and other fears that the world’s leaders will not act in time to prevent their lives — and the lives of their children — from being irretrievably altered by climate change.”
The 16-year-old figurehead of these recent Climate Strikes – Greta Thunberg – is a case in point. In a TedX talk, she described how she first heard about climate change when she was eight years old, and how deeply she was affected by the impression that no one was doing anything about it. Several years later, she said, she fell into a deep depression, and even completely stopped eating for weeks. She was subsequently diagnosed with Asperger’s, OCD, and “select mutism”. So impassioned did she become about the environmental cause that she convinced her family to take up veganism (“I made them feel so guilty. I kept telling them that they were stealing our future and they cannot stand up for human rights while living that lifestyle…”). She also convinced her mother to give up her career as a professional opera singer, because of the requisite air travel.
One can admire Thunberg’s conviction and courage, while harboring serious misgivings about the worldview she represents. Far from “inspiring” (as many in the media have described it), Thunberg’s recent speech to the UN displayed a disturbing mix of fear, fury, and vilification. “[I]f you choose to fail us,” Thunberg excoriated the assembled dignitaries, on behalf of the world’s youth, “I say: We will never forgive you.” This is not a viewpoint to be promoted or applauded.
However, it is not Thunberg that concerns me. It is, rather, the host of powerful and wealthy adults who have been more than happy to cultivate her anxieties, and that of other children and adolescents like her, by immuring them in alarmist propaganda from the earliest of ages, and who then harness that anxiety to further their particular social, political, and economic aims. While the Thunbergs of the world lose sleep over the future of the planet, these people blithely jet-set about the world, splitting their time between their various mansions, or flying their private jets into global conferences on climate change (over 100 private jets recently descended on a resort on the Sicilian coast for Google’s climate camp).
Indeed, many young people have become so consumed by climate alarmism that they are even pledging to forego one of the most basic human goods and sources of human fulfilment – family life and children. Recently an 18-year-old Canadian student launched a website, #NoFutureNoChildren, which is associated with the Global Climate Strikes. So far over 3,700 other youth have signed the website’s pledge not to have children, “until I am sure my government will ensure a safe future for them.” One 17-year-old girl wrote, heartbreakingly, “For as long as I can remember I have wanted to have kids. My parents have many pictures of me playing with my dolls and holding the new babies of family members and friends.” However, she added, “I will not and do not want to have kids in the state of this world.”
Nothing Happens in a Vacuum
At a time when most of the world is in the first stages of an acute population implosion, these misguided youth are signing a pledge that not only robs them of the joys of family life, but also further feeds the lack of hope to which they have succumbed. Indeed, is there anything that speaks more loudly of despair – except perhaps for suicide itself – than the deliberate decision not to welcome new life into the world because of overwhelming fear for the future?
But, in addition to concern about what these Climate Strikes, and the propaganda behind them, is doing to children, I am concerned about what they reveal about the nature and priorities of the next generation. More than any other generation, those reaching adolescence now have been nursed at the breasts of progressives who have corrupted nearly every level of influence. The statistics are beyond clear: most of the fields that have the greatest influence over the minds of the public – education, entertainment, and journalism – are overwhelmingly populated by so-called “progressives.” And whereas previous generations at least had the counterbalancing and typically conservative influence of church, family and community, members of the generation now reaching adulthood are increasing atheistic or apathetic, the products of broken families, and members of a society that champions radical individuality over communal living. In many cases, the progressive ideologues have almost unfettered access to their minds – in the classroom, on TV, and through their smartphones. Indeed, in many cases it is simply a misnomer to call these Climate Strikes “strikes” – for many states and school boards are actively facilitating and encouraging students’ participation.
Like many, I am encouraged by statistics suggesting that the pro-life cause has been growing in support, even among the younger generations. And yet, at the risk of sounding like a doomsayer, I cannot help but wonder at the disproportion: for is there any chance at all that a pro-life Greta Thunberg could convince millions of her peers around the globe to walk out of school and demonstrate in support of the right to life of the unborn? Is there any chance that whole states and school systems and celebrities would support the effort? It is not that there is not cause for alarm about environmental degradation. But while our youth are falling into depression and crippling anxiety over a putative, existentially-threatening environmental crisis that has repeatedly failed to materialize according to the ever-shifting timeline alarmists have laid out, millions of their peers are being literally snuffed out.
So, what is the takeaway from all of this? In the first place, we should put things in perspective. The fight against the spirit of the age has always been a David and Goliath fight. We should not be surprised or scandalized when we find that the truth is not popular, and that the wealthy and powerful are not on the side of truth. In the second place, however, and to repeat something that I have often emphasized – Christians must not underestimate the value of investing in education, and carefully curating the forces that we allow to have access to our children. Just looking at the numbers is sufficient proof that we have not done our job in steeping our children in truth, and protecting them from the endemic forces of secularism. Christians and other people of good will have ceded the public spaces to “progressive” voices. Though we should never despair, we certainly have the responsibility to provide spaces in which our children can flourish. To hand our children an unfiltered smartphone, and then to ship them off to the local school without taking any interest in what is being taught there simply isn’t an option. Get involved in your children’s education; and even better, help support your local alternative Christian or classical school.
Finally, it should be noted that these Strikes are not necessarily all bad news. What they do show is that our youth are craving a cause to get behind, and are willing to rise up en masse and get involved in fighting for what they believe in. In many cases, their concern certainly arises from a good and healthy love for the beauty of God’s creation – a thing to be admired. Our job is to find creative ways to harness that passion for the cause of a more complete good – to create a Culture of Life and a Civilization of Love, characterized not only by a respect for God’s creation, but for the life and dignity of every single human being.