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The Children’s Climate Crusade

If adults won’t take seriously the damage they’re inflicting on planet Earth, her children most certainly will. Chris Chatteris SJ reflects on the Children’s Climate Crusade which has erupted all over the world. Young people are calling on their generation for help, and, in some cases, this is being done without the support of those who should be looking out for their tomorrow.

Should this line be added to the International Charter of human rights? “Every generation shall have an equal right to the enjoyment of natural wealth’ (my emphasis). Environmental journalist, George Monbiot thinks so. It’s a telling point. Even if we do manage to create a just and equitable society in the world today, as long as we do it by sacrificing future resources, we will not do justice to the generations of tomorrow. 

Monbiot argues that we are in fact denying the rights of future generations by our present rapacious behaviour. As long as we destroy natural resources faster than they can be regenerated; as long as we continue to consume non-renewable resources; as long as we carelessly pollute natural systems, we are stealing from future generations and degrading and devaluing our legacy to those who will come after us.

The children currently bunking off school and protesting on the streets of the world’s capitals every Friday have grasped this and they are appalled. They cannot understand why their elders, are doing this to them and to their own future children. Indeed, it is extremely difficult to understand. 

Most parents strive to ensure that their children will have a secure future. They make great sacrifices to guarantee that they get an education which will equip them for adult life. Why would these same parents and grandparents persist in trashing the planet on which they hope their offspring will thrive and be happy?

I do not know. These days, when I see some of the crazy behaviour of my generation of leaders, especially in the Anglophone world, it seems to me that leaders have been struck by a collective lunacy. I feel for the children. How will they get their desperate message through to this hopeless crew whose main aims seem to be to suck up to their wealthy patrons and preserve their political parties in power?

But make no mistake, the children are interrogating not only our morally and intellectually bankrupt leaders but also the older generations as a whole. They are asking us all why we have lived like this. They are asking why, once we realised what we were doing to the delicately balanced systems of life upon which we depend, we did not urgently change course. 

We might reply that it took a long time to grasp what was happening. That having created this consumer economy it was easier said than done to change it. That democracy is not well-suited to the kind of radical action that the crisis demands. And that sorry, but half-baked compromises are all we could come up with. 

These excuses do seem rather weak in the light of the possibility of a ‘hothouse earth’ and out of control planetary warming which threaten to drown coastal cities, cripple the food supply and make us prey to one major natural disaster after another. Even, make the planet completely uninhabitable for humanity.

But we do have to get up in the morning and make a living, and this involves driving petrol cars and working for companies that produce trashy, carbon-consuming consumables. We fear the alternatives of a less consumerist lifestyle and a climate-friendly economy. 

Indeed, some Luddites would happily put the clock back. They will resist any attempt to decarbonise the economy because of loss of the jobs that will happen with the demise of the fossil fuel industry. And they are right of course — coal mining, petrol cars, carnivorism and frequent flying would all be history. 

But history they must become and our time to start making them history is the present. If is far better to manage some economic disruption now than wholesale collapse later on. Plan now to transfer jobs from our dying dirty industries to our growing cleaner ones. 

The protesting schoolchildren tell us what adults don’t want to hear — that they have to take the hard and painful decisions needed to avoid these outcomes and secure the future. The alternative is economic and ecological suicide. 

‘Out of the mouths of babes’ – they’re telling us that we simply can’t go on living like this. 

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.


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Chris Chatteris SJ
Chris Chatteris is a Jesuit priest who is the handyman at the Seminary in Cape Town, combining the tradition of the ‘worker priest’ with teaching and spiritual direction of seminarians. On the handyman side his current project is to ‘green’ the seminary and he has installed such things as heat pumps, rain tanks and recycling systems. He does some writing, last year authoring a book entitled Vocations and what to do with them, a handbook for vocations directors. He also writes a monthly column for the Southern Cross reflecting on the Pope’s intentions, plus occasional other articles elsewhere. Chris was born in Zambia and went to Jesuit schools in both Zimbabwe and Britain and, having been unable to beat them, joined them in 1968. He studied philosophy, theology, French and education, and spent a very formative time in France, part of which was at the L’Arche Community of Jean Vanier fame. Chris has taught in French and British schools and worked in British and South African parishes, including a mission in KZN at the time of the transition from apartheid to normality. He has also worked as the novice director of Jesuits, in the theological formation of young religious at St Joseph’s Theological Institute, Cedara and, briefly, at the Jesuit Institute.

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