The view from Billinudgel

The kids are alright
Climate-striking students have every right to protest

Students at the School Strike 4 Climate in Hobart. Photograph by Laura Campbell

The conservatives have got themselves into a terrible lather about last week’s climate-change protest.

The kids, of course, are utterly wrong – misguided, subverted, brainwashed – but by whom? Well, obviously their teachers, the crypto-communists devoted to tearing down Western civilisation, which is, by definition, the only sort worth saving. It is hardly a surprise that the teachers have given permission for the so-called strike – after all, they probably suggested it in the first place.

But what about the parents, those whom the conservatives always regard as the ultimate authority for their children? They too were overwhelmingly supportive. Have they all been brainwashed too? Because if they haven’t, it would imply that the strike, far from some kind of aberrant Marxist conspiracy, is actually part of a mainstream movement, and the conservatives are the ones out of step.

Of course we already knew this – many opinion polls have confirmed it. But climate-change denial extends beyond the science – to be even halfway consistent it has to embrace some kind of silent majority to be legitimate. And if, as was proved earlier in the same-sex marriage debate, there is no silent majority, then those in denial are shown to be no more than a perverse and disaffected rump.

But the terrible reality is obviously too much for them to bear, so they continue to pretend that they are the only genuine arbiters of both public policy and public culture – their objection is not that the kids are brainwashed, but that they have not been brainwashed by them.

The idea of obeying your parents needs to be qualified, moreover, from this point of view: obey your parents when we think they are right, but if we don’t think they’re right, then obey us. And let’s go further than the old precept that children should be seen and not heard – they shouldn’t be seen too much either. That’s why we insist that if they absolutely must protest, they should do it in their own time, when no one will notice.

The formula was always nonsense, but at a time when the new generation is increasingly socially aware, it is obviously unfeasible. I have an honours degree, but my 16-year-old granddaughter is far better informed in a number of areas than I ever have been or ever will be. She was part of the protest, and I applaud her for it unreservedly. She studied the issue, weighed it up, discussed it with parents and teachers, not to mention her fellow pupils. She knew precisely what she was doing and why, and I am pretty sure that was the case with the vast majority of the many thousands that turned out not just in Australia but around the world.

Climate denial and inaction may be an easy option for the older generation who will never have to face the consequences of their refusal to act; it is not so simple for those who will suffer for the neglect of their elected representatives. They have every right – even a duty – to express their concern, even if it does mean taking the occasional day away from classes.

And good on them for it.

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Visit his blog, The View from Billinudgel.

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