WHEN I was a teenager, my friends and I imagined the future in positive terms because we couldn’t think of anywhere more depressing than South Yorkshire in the 1980s.
Mostly, I remember the anger. The clashes between police and pickets at the colliery gates, the marches, the vitriol of unions versus politicians and even families falling apart over strikes.
I also remember the anxiety: redundancies and long periods of industrial unrest meant financial instability, homes being repossessed, deprivation and soup kitchens.
Looking back, however, there was always the sense that somehow we could all survive it if we pulled together. The possible threat of nuclear annihilation aside, we didn’t fear much for the future of our species and life on Earth.
It’s disturbing to know that today’s teenagers can find no such optimism. There is so much polarisation. The biggest threat to mankind, climate change, has become a political football.
In one corner stand the climate change campaigners. “I wonder, what will you tell your children was the reason to fail and leave them facing the climate chaos you knowingly brought upon them?” 17-year-old activist Greta Thunberg asked the annual gathering of the world’s rich and powerful at the Davos summit.
In the opposing corner stood US President Donald Trump, who predictably scoffed at her plea and questioned her age.
I’ll admit that until this moment, I had kept Ms Thunberg somewhere in the part of my mind concerned with the big, challenging ideas I need to find a day’s worth of spare brain-space to properly engage with. Yet there was something about her speeches last week which hit home.
That’s because I’d been sitting on the sofa days earlier watching the news with my daughter Lizzie, who’s three years younger than Ms Thunberg. She looked at me and asked a question of her own: “Mum, tell me, why aren’t the politicians doing anything to stop climate change?”
To Lizzie, it’s simple. She is still idealistic. Placing hope over experience (for she is yet to have much of the latter), she believes that people who are voted into powerful positions should do good on behalf of others.
Until recently, she’s kept her political opinions to herself. She’s never been the kind of child who comes home from school to guilt-trip us into recycling more or opting for Veganuary.
However, she is devastated by the loss of all those koala bears in the Australian bushfires and worries about the amount of meat we eat. And her geography teacher sounds like he’s dedicated to bringing environmental catastrophe into every lesson.
Thanks to Lizzie, we know who the leading “preppers” (survivalists who prepare for possible Armageddon by hoarding supplies and food) are on social media.
And it was from Lizzie that we first heard of Ms Thunberg. Or should we now just call her Greta? Like Beyonce and Boris, she’s one of those select individuals so well known in global terms that they need bother only with their first name.
Greta is certainly a poster girl for the young and politically “woke”, but this doesn’t mean she has nothing to say to the older and more jaded. Don’t be like Trump and swat her away like an annoying fly. What she is talking about affects us all. And even more importantly, it affects the next generation and the generations to come after that.
I wave no flag for a particular cause but I do care that world leaders seem able to act without sanction; Trump has simply – and unilaterally – withdrawn the United States from the Paris Climate Accord, which aims to cut CO2 emissions to a rate that will limit global warming.
And I also do care that a man of Trump’s privilege, wealth and social position cannot find it in himself to extend basic courtesy and respect to a young, intelligent and brave individual. In his dealings with Greta, he shows only weakness, not strength.
If his fellow international politicians can’t prevent him from doing such defiant acts, a teenager with a ponytail certainly won’t stop him in his tracks.
I wish that humanity could find the courage to step back and use this Davos exchange as a line in the sand. We should collaborate, before it’s too late, and before our children look back on us as the generation who failed them. Our politicians really do need to grasp this.
Whether you agree with Greta or favour the Trump hard-line approach will mean nothing in the end. All that hot air, literally, for nothing.
When sea levels rise further as predicted and temperatures continue to soar, it won’t matter whether you believed in climate change or not. You will still be queuing for fresh water and hoping that the moorland wildfires don’t reach your house.
I couldn’t truthfully answer Lizzie’s question, by the way. Can you?