There is so much going on, it’s amazing that the world keeps turning. Boris is doing his kamikaze best, I suppose, though I’m not convinced of either his methods or his mandate and he seems in his short time in office to have alienated more people than I’ve had hot dinners. The world needs to take action on climate change, environmental degradation, overfishing, the nuclear debate, the manufacture and supply of weaponry… And throughout a three-year fracas about our membership of the European block, many opportunities for action on our future priorities have passed us by.
Yet it becomes increasingly apparent to me that young adults, school leavers and college students are being looked to, to speak for the imperatives of future generations. Last night on the news, a piece about reconciliation in which young people from across an old, bitter divide were invited to meet. Looking exactly like my daughter having a conversation with one of her school buddies: young, hopeful, accepting. And baffled by the old, insisted-upon enmities maintained by their elders. In the same bulletin, mentions of climate change, marches, and Greta Thunberg are fairly routine.
Are young people increasingly seen as the moral voice of our nations? Of course, they are “the future” but as things stand, they currently have little investment in “the system”. Perhaps that’s the whole point: young people are freer, less hidebound by expectations that the “rest of us” take for granted. And “the system” currently appears to pay their views scant regard. A school teacher, when asked if her YA pupils may join a march for climate change says, “What’s more important? The environment, or your exams?” Greta has been mocked in mainstream media for having the courage of her convictions; 16 and 17 year olds don’t have the vote, nor do they have automatic rights to state support. Young people are often characterised as a nuisance, difficult, unfathomable. But do we listen to them?
I’m honoured that young people are taking action. For the rest of us, it seems to be largely a case of “business as usual”. Exploration for oil and gas – so essential for jobs and industry – continues, as does the sale of weaponry, for much the same reasons. I’ve yet to see a convincing argument that selling weaponry – in other words, facilitating the death of persons unknown – is good for any of us.
If we wish young people to advocate for us, we need to allow them full participation rights in our society. Not demonising their curiosity and energy, but allowing it expression, and learning – for the love of God – to listen. It is because young people have different perspectives that their views are so valuable. They need to be heard, accorded a full place in our democratic processes, and given the financial support to allow them some choices and active participation.
Those youngsters whom we designate our hope for the future are growing louder and more insistent. If the threats of climate change are real – and it seems wiser to assume they are than to pretend it’s all fiction – the momentum for change will continue to grow. While the old guard, so accustomed to rehearsing their entitlements and not listening to other points of view, will find itself increasingly isolated.