In the 1990s, I remember skipping school with friends and riding the T to Flat Top Johnny's pool hall in Cambridge. We listened to a lot of music, like most teenagers do, and WFNX, one of our favorite radio stations, offered a membership card that included an hour of free pool mid-day on weekdays. We played around for a few hours and made some small stakes bets with whatever cash we had in our pockets. Of course mid-day on a weekday meant skipping school, but we all kept our grades up, stayed mostly out of trouble, and breaking some rules where no one gets hurt is a rite of passage. For us, skipping school was a simple and selfish act. It was slightly bold, a little risky, and being discreet was a priority.
Twenty-something years later, on Friday, September 20th, 2019 I found myself riding the T again to join teens skipping school, but this day of student led protest would be the antithesis of my skipping school in my youth. These teens were not being selfish, discreet and betting small stakes. The youth in Greater Boston were joining the Global Youth Climate Strike that is incredibly bold and prominent, recognizing that the stakes could not be higher. Young people across the world in September 2019 are leading a series of international climate strikes and protests demanding action from leadership to address climate change leading up to the 2019 United Nations Climate Summit in New York City.
Approximately 10,000 people gathered in Boston’s City Hall Plaza, joining an estimated 4 million worldwide, to protest the inaction of leadership to sufficiently address climate change as a result of carbon pollution. The students peacefully rallied and told inspiring stories that led to this point...the point where they felt compelled to speak up about the world they will soon be inheriting from us. It was sobering to realize their correct perception that we, the adults, could do more and that we, the adults, were underestimating our ability to contribute to a solution. Most of these students can’t yet vote for candidates of any party that support clean air, clean water, and clean soil and that hold polluters accountable, but we can.
When the rally at City Hall Plaza concluded, youth protestors led the march up Tremont, Park, and Beacon Streets and continued the peaceful rally at the steps of the Massachusetts State House and lawns of Boston Common. I was unexpectedly moved when I realized that we were marching past the Granary Burying Ground, where many American Patriots are buried, including Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, and John Hancock. I’ve been there many times before, but under these circumstances of protest, I felt incredibly grateful for those that understood the right to protest the actions or inactions of their governments as a fundamental right. I took a few minutes detour and paid my respects to those that saw something wrong and took action.
We, the adults of 2019, have created and participated in a system that perpetuates pollution of our air, water, and soil. Instead of uniting around issues of shared concern and responsibility, we’ve allowed ourselves to be pulled apart into warring ‘tribes’ and allowed others to convince us that safe access to clean air, clean water, and clean soil is a political issue rather than what it truly is: a universal human right.
In 10+ years, when my two young sons are teenagers, I hope they can sneakily skip a day of high school and explore their world without worrying about the mess their parents are making. We’re dumping an incredible burden on this generation of children if we do not act now to accelerate our transition to a sustainable future. Our leverage is lessened every additional year we procrastinate and pollute. We, the people, evolved within the life supporting ecosystems of this planet and we ignore them, neglect them, and worst of all destroy them at our own peril.
Thankfully, good things are happening too, and not just from the students. We can lean into these positive actions with our personal, community, and company support.
To the Global Youth Climate Strikers seeking action from leadership: