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  • Writer's pictureKevin O'Keefe

Our House is on Fire

Updated: Nov 7, 2019

If you’re over fifty (as I am) and a citizen (me too) would you consider admitting that we have failed our children? We’ve failed them on preventing, or at least curbing, gun violence. We’ve failed them by loading them with crushing debt, just add college expenses and the most recent Republican tax cut. And finally, we’ve failed them by inaction in the face of the overwhelming scientific evidence of climate change.

Before you jump out the nearest window pause and consider the hope-filled School Strike for Climate Change that took place this past Friday. It was inspired by the example of sixteen-year old Greta Thunberg from Sweden, who in turn was inspired by the teens in Parkland, Florida. Kids fed up with adult indifference and inaction took their message to the streets and social media.

Sweden endured heat waves and wild fires this past summer. Ms. Thunberg spent the last thirty weeks protesting outside the Swedish Parliament her country’s inaction on climate change. This past Friday she was joined by over one million other kids and activists in over two thousand locations spread across one hundred and twenty-five countries. No surprise, there were protests here in our town of Brattleboro.

The three protests that day—one at BUHS, and two downtown—were organized by a group of local teens and pre-teens. I attended the ones at Pliny Park. What gave me so much hope was the children who demanded the megaphone and led us in chants of outrage and calls to action. Some were as young as seven and others recently established teens. Many cars drove by and heard our “No more coal, no more oil, leave our carbon in the soil” chant, a few drivers tooted their horns in solidarity.

We lustily cheered every passing bicycle rider. We listened as teens asked their peers if they could live in a world without winter snow, coastlines as we know them, or if they could tolerate a species extinction rate fifty-percent? We heard them scream, “NO!” after every query.

We heard them, didn't we? I saw a sign that asked, “Why go to school when there is no future?”

I asked Lucy Congleton, 19, one of the core group of organizers how she got involved. She said, “I went to a workshop at The Roots Social Justice Center linking climate change and racial justice. After that Brattleboro 350 reached out and wanted to be supportive of a school strike. Yesterday I had many inspired conversations and I want to have more. Greta Thunberg inspired me too because she’s not letting other people (aka adults) or her own insecurity stop her.” I asked where Ms. Congleton’s focus might go from here: “Now Brattleboro Common Sense wants to support youth action in local conservation, turning fear into power. There are personal and small-scale actions that can make a difference. I want to bring emotion into the conversation, especially the fear, creating a safe place to work through it.”

When Greta Thunberg recently addressed the adults in the room at the Davos Economic Forum she said, “I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”

Back at Pliny Park a few of the adults cried, perhaps in some novel combination of shame, pride and hope. I carried a sign (someone else made it) reminding us that we only had twelve years before reaching the point of no return with climate change. A boy of eleven or twelve asked me, “So what happens after twelve years? Do we all just die?”

I had no answer. Do you?


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