This is my recent column in the New Zealand Herald, which is published in the digital edition every Thursday…
What are acceptable reasons to “wag” school in New Zealand?
Royal visits? Definitely okay. Trips to Fiji with your family, or the last day of a test match – especially at the Basin? Mostly acceptable. And certainly any parade in celebration of a sports event like the Rugby World Cup or America’s Cup.
What about catastrophic climate change and the death of our planet?
Denial has its uses. Without doubt our day-to-day emotional survival requires us to tune out the otherwise overwhelming and distressing things we could be focussing on. But next Friday, March 15, many of our rangatahi will join a growing global movement of students striking from school to try and shake off the denial settling around the issue that will define their future: Climate change.
And it’s not just the physical world that’s affected. There is now growing evidence of anxiety, depression and grief being attributed to the overwhelming, and seemingly unavoidable catastrophe that is climate change.
The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report (or the IPCC) makes for somber, if not down right depressing reading. In short, unless we make substantial changes now, we will be facing a greater than 1.5 degree increase in average global temperature by 2040, much earlier than thought.
In 2040, I will be 65. My children will be entering their thirties, and most of the young people currently at school will be in their thirties and forties.
It will be up to them to live with the consequences, and to try to find solutions, for the consequences of massive global changes in climate.
Yet despite these facts, some are still wringing their hands about the idea of young people “striking” from school to protest governments – adults – lack of action on climate. Is it any wonder they’re angry? And is it any wonder that extreme weather events are causing weather anxiety for many of us?
Fortunately, like almost any problem, taking action helps our mental wellbeing. And while conservative politicians, online trolls and climate deniers may deride efforts to recycle, reduce plastic, or move away from petrol-powered cars, the reality is it all helps, and can also help your mental health too.
And perhaps, that’s the real point about the school strikes. We should be supporting the next generation to have a voice. But we should also support what worldwide is shaping up to be the most anxious generation in human history to do anything that may help them alleviate their powerless-ness. Because before they know it, our problems will be theirs.
There is – and always has been – a wisdom and clarity in youth, and we ignore it now at our own peril. Because while the comfortable path of denial may seem easier, we need to be anxious. We need to be miserable, we need to be worried. And we need to act.
In the words of 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, the Swedish young woman credited with initiating the school strikes, who spoke recently at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland:
“I want you to panic.”
That’s not mental illness, or “eco-anxiety.” That’s reality.
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