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Opinion: As a teacher should I encourage my students to strike against climate change?

Part of me has begun hoping that I’ll turn up one morning with my Hamlet and Sylvia Plath prepared but my students won’t be there anymore, writes Ronan Moore.

School students strike against Climate Change in London.
School students strike against Climate Change in London.
Image: PA Wire/PA Images

AS A TEACHER, father and aspirant politician, when I consider this week’s proposed school strike on global warming I face a dilemma: Am I letting my students down if I allow them to skip school or am I letting them down if I don’t encourage them to strike?

For those who are not familiar with the planned ‘Schools Strike for Climate Action’ this Friday, it is a nationwide protest against the Government’s lack of action on climate change.

Students from all over Ireland will take part in marches in Dublin and Cork as well as demonstrations outside school gates in counties from Kerry to Donegal.

While there have been many days of protest across the country in recent years, from housing to health, this one is quite different.

To begin with, this protest is led by secondary students and the Irish strike is part of a growing international movement.

This is the latest of a series of school-student-led protests, strikes and demonstrations that began on 20 of August 2018 when 15-year old Swedish student, Greta Thunberg, decided to skip school and protest outside the Swedish parliament due to its inaction on global warming.

That first Friday Thunberg spent alone with a hand-painted banner that read: ‘skolstrejk för klimatet’ : ‘school strike for climate’. 

On the second day, people started to join her and she hasn’t been alone since. This Friday she will be joined by students in more than 700 locations across 71 different countries.

The second difference is the strength of the message that this remarkable young woman has brought forward.

Thunberg’s message, which she has delivered passionately in front of audiences ranging from school children to billionaires at Davos, is emphatic, unequivocal and damning.

The world, the biosphere, the planet is dying. Our house is on fire. This young lady does not mince her words, firing daggers of truth at the world’s governments and business leaders:

You are not mature enough to tell it like it is, even that burden you leave to us children.
“You say you love your children above all else yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes,” she says. 
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 then I want you to act.

These are uncomfortable truths for all of us – especially coming from a child as she describes herself.

But looking at the latest figures from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) we need to start listening to these kids. 

According to the latest IPCC climate change report, published in October 2018, the world’s leading climate scientists have warned there are only a dozen years left for global warming to be kept under 1.5C.

Any further rises beyond that will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

The final reason that this protest is different and has the potential to become truly meteoric is that it contains an action that may prove especially popular with the average student – skipping school.

If all this does not yet strike fear into the heart of politicians, principals or parents then they probably still don’t fully understand the power of the internet and social media.

This cluster of protests is close to tipping point, close to becoming an all-encompassing international movement, that each new protester, each hashtag, each video that goes viral helps to accelerate forward.

And this is where I become torn. The strikes have begun gaining momentum in other countries as a regular ‘Friday for Futures’ event.   

Do I want to see this happen here? Of course, I don’t want my students to begin skipping classes and falling behind. But what is the point of teaching them algebra or Shakespeare if they face a future of total climate chaos when they are older?

Shouldn’t we be encouraging them to make their voices heard on such a serious issue as a route to become active citizens?

The sad truth is that we actually need this push from the children to do something – because so far we really haven’t pushed ourselves.

I sometimes show the 1997 Oscar-winning film ‘Good Will Hunting’ to my students.

I tie in a whole host of themes into it but at the heart of my choice is that I think it is a beautiful film that resonates with young people – a story of redemption, of love, of forgiveness, and of friendship.

There is a moment in the film when Matt Damon’s character’s childhood friend Chuckie tells him that his favourite part of the day is when he arrives at Matt’s house to pick him up for another dead-end day of menial labour.

He always hopes that his friend will have packed up and gone. Gone to a better life than the one that Chuckie and his other friends are destined to fulfil.

There is a part of me that has begun hoping that I will turn up one Friday morning with my Hamlet, my French Revolution and my Sylvia Plath prepared but my students won’t be there anymore.

Instead, they’ll realise that safeguarding our planet is the most important job they may ever have.

They might be able to live with the consequences of skipping school – but none of us will survive the consequences of destroying our planet.

Ronan Moore is a secondary school teacher, author and he will run in the local elections as a Social Democrat candidate in Co Meath.

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