This morning I had breakfast in Manhattan with my oldest friend, a man I met in middle school in 1971. I’ve been travelling in The States the past few weeks to see friends and family, and managed to find him through social media. He’s not a Luddite but he doesn’t have the usual Instagram presence, the Snapchat account, or the marketing materials of most people these days, so he’s a bit hard to track down.
Steve is an internationally well-known artist, with drawings in the Morgan Library and paintings in the Whitney’s permanent collection. He spent a summer working in Monet’s home at Giverny and another in residency at the famous Skowhegan School of Art and Sculpture in Maine. He knows a lot about art, but not much about sustainability, and as we were catching up he asked naively, “What’s all this sustainability stuff you’re writing about?”
So I pointed to his coffee cup and said, “it’s about that.” He cocked an eyebrow inquiringly. I picked up a sugar packet. “It’s also about this,” I said, and he puckered his lips. I took a sip of water and said, “It’s definitely about this stuff, too.” “Ah,” he said.
I pointed next to the straw the restaurant had automatically put in his glass. “Got it,” he said.
We were seated in the open window of a café on 7th Avenue, and I gestured towards the cars and buses, the new construction across the street, the paper napkin he was dabbing his lips with after a sip of espresso.
“So…it’s everything,” he said. I thought about this for a bit before realizing that almost all we could see was wrapped up in the sustainability equation somehow. The concrete sidewalks, and the brick piles outside the construction site. The streetlights, the clothing and hair product of the passersby.
The eggs, breads, meats and vegetables on the tables nearby all got a blunt forefinger in their direction. The carafe of cream on our table, too, received its quick, pointed tap. Leather shoes and belts, the gas range and oven in the restaurant’s kitchen, and the electricity to run the fan by our table, received their due scrutiny.
At this point my friend was in the spirit too, and touched the wooden table’s well-scarred surface, then the plastic-coated menu. I added the ink thereon. The air wafting in our window, all of it was in the mix.
It struck me there was nothing within our reach, nothing in sight, which didn’t also have a number of solutions available, right now, to make it more sustainable. Sure, there are climate issues surrounding all these materials, but there are already substitutes, remedies, workarounds and replacements underway for all of them.
What is needed, then, are not necessarily solutions, but awareness, education, commitment. A significant chunk of people with a true stake in the outcome and the energy to take decisive action.
Hey Presto! There is a Global Climate Strike happening this very Friday, fueled by students, young people, who will be walking out of their classes in large numbers to demand a habitable planet for themselves and their own future generations. Students in more than 150 nations are expected to participate and, while we don’t know their numbers yet, it’s likely to be…well, a lot. Just what the sustainability doctor ordered!
Some kids already strike every Friday, in an organization called Fridays for Future, which had its genesis in Greta Thunberg’s every-Friday school strike in Sweden demanding the government get in line with the Paris agreement’s targets. Man! If you have to protest like that in Sweden, it’s not a moment too soon to do it here!
In November of 2016, more than 50,000 people, mostly schoolchildren, participated in the first strike of this kind during the Paris climate change conference, and various actions continued in hundreds of countries on an ad hoc basis. Then in March of this year, almost a million-and-a-half kids walked out of schools worldwide, demanding climate action. Again in May, hundreds of thousands stayed out of schools, marching and demanding a clean planet to grow up in.
New York City — the largest school system in the United States — announced this week that there will be no penalties for students attending the event, which could potentially swell the strikers’ ranks by more than a million kids.
Dragged along in the wake of these students are forward-looking corporations like Ben & Jerry’s, whose stores will close so their staffs can join the strike or strike-related events; Patagonia, which is also in deep behind the strikers, and hundreds of other companies which are closing or expressing their solidarity in some way.
Dragged along also are the world’s governments, many of whom are meeting at the United Nations a few days after the strike to discuss climate change at the U.N. Climate Summit. When they do, everything they see and touch will have both a problematic role in sustainability and with a tenable solution that is available right now.
The question is, will these kids, marching for their very lives, shift the equation so those solutions are adopted right now by those dragged along behind: by us?
The determination being shown by these young people suggests they just might.