Words from School Strike for Climate

This piece is a slightly modified version of a short speech I gave at the President’s Sustainability Research Fellowship Final Presentation Event on May 7. I am currently working on a longer piece about the school strike for climate, which I also hope to publish, but I wanted to share what I have right now, so that you can join me if you decide that that’s something you want to do.

To students, faculty, and staff –

Do you understand the magnitude of the crisis we are in? Do you understand that the chances there will be any permanent ice left in the Arctic after 2022 are essentially zero? Have you considered the possibility that climate breakdown could lead to societal collapse in a not-too-distant future? Have you considered what that might mean in your very own life? A couple of students and I thought that, for a lot of us, the answer was probably not. So we decided to school strike, in order to make time and space to talk to people about climate breakdown, and process our own emotions and thoughts about our situation, in an institution that frankly doesn’t make the time and space we desperately need to do these things.

Through the school strike, I have found the words I want to share with you today.

Please face up to the reality. Please face the despair, the grief, the fear, the confusion, and the anger that may come with it, and allow it to guide your actions. Allow it to transform you, as I have allowed it to transform me. Because I can tell you, that if I hadn’t faced up to the brutal reality that I can’t expect to have a normal life, with a normal career and a pension, the brutal reality that I can’t expect to grow old, then I wouldn’t have had the courage to school strike or ask for these words to be published today. I wouldn’t even have known that these words needed to be communicated.

If you face up to the reality, you may discover a courage you didn’t know you possessed. And that is so important, because courage, not complacency or blind optimism, is what we need the most right now: the courage to break away from the social norms that keep us trapped on this pathway to complete tragedy, the courage to rethink our values, the courage to challenge our notions of success and progress. In other words, the courage to question any present beliefs or practices that are not going to help us with the coming difficulties, and the courage to change them.

If what I have written has moved you at all, and you are thinking that you do want to face the reality and see where it takes you, then my recommendation for where to start are the two papers linked below. And if you read these papers and you want to talk about them, or if you want other resources, or if you just want to know more about the questions and emotions I have grappled with these past few months, then email me, or even better, join me on Parrish Porch for my final school strikes of the semester. With the exception of this Thursday, I will be there every weekday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. until the end of finals.

Jem Bendell, “Deep Adaptation: A Map For Navigating Climate Tragedy”

cw: descriptions of violence


Rupert Read, “This Civilization Is Finished: So What Is To Be Done?”