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Friday 15 February 2019

Greta love

Today’s school protests are happening at a time when conventional politics is demonstrably failing

It’s not about half-term. Schools close this afternoon for a week but it would be wrong to conclude that that is why hundreds of children in the UK, and 70,000 around the world, are not showing up at all.

They’re doing it because of Greta Thunberg, and climate change. The school strike has been inspired by a lone Swedish 16-year-old with Asperger’s who has missed school every Friday since last August to protest in silence outside the Swedish parliament.

“I don’t want you to hope, I want you to panic,” Thunberg told the suits at Davos last month.

She in turn has learnt from the teenage survivors of the Parkland school shooting in Florida a year ago. They told President Trump they didn’t want his prayers. They wanted action. Since then 67 gun control bills have been passed in 26 US states.

Call it rage, or moral clarity, but something about these protests is cutting through. It’s cutting through where years of careful argument from well-intentioned grown-ups simply hasn’t.

Is it coincidence that this is happening at a time when conventional politics on both sides of the Atlantic are demonstrably failing; when great democracies are poleaxed by re-tweeted lies and parliamentary paralysis? Probably not. Abject failures of leadership in London and the White House – but also across Europe – have left a vacuum for other voices to fill. But that alone doesn’t explain the resonance of Thunberg’s message or the success of the Parkland students in confronting the American gun lobby. It undersells their very particular talents, their bravery and their tenacity.

Less than a week after losing 17 of her classmates to guns fired by a mentally unstable Nikolas Cruz, a shaven-headed Emma Gonzalez shook her country out of its torpor with a white-hot, extemporised attack on the National Rifle Association for its millions in political donations, and on the political class for accepting them. She has been in full campaign mode ever since, impossible to ignore.

As for Thunberg, it’s worth watching in full a TED talk that she gave last year. Squinting into the lights, she explains how her type of autism means she sees the world in black and white; how she first learnt about climate change aged eight; how she couldn’t understand why nothing was being done about it; how as a result she fell into a depression aged 11; and how she’s dealing with it now by telling the world she’s fed up with excuses.

“The crisis has already been solved,” she says. “We already have all the facts and solutions. All we have to do is wake up and change.”

We reached a similar conclusion at a ThinkIn last night on renewable energy. Then we went home and continued with our lives, burning, as Thunberg has pointed out, 100 million barrels of oil a day.

“Enough is enough,” writes Lottie Tellyn, 17, of YouthStrike4Climate, who is skipping school today to take part in one of 50 protests planned in Britain. “We deserve better from the people we’re supposed to place our trust in.”

You do Lottie, no question about it. And because of that, we may very soon be placing our trust in you.