The Ides of March represented a global student strike day motivated by the apparent lack of progress made by governments in adopting concrete measures to address climate change.

Consulting the Fridays for Future group website (www.fridaysforfuture.org), which tracks the student pledges made globally to hold symbolic protests and strikes, the sheer scale of the movement sinks in, with a staggering total of 123 countries where strikes were held on March 15, representing over 2,000 towns and cities.

Malta itself has joined the fray, with six events last Friday, out of a total of nine related events organised over the past few weeks. A number of youngsters are emerging as beacons for the generation which is soliciting change, including the Mauritius students who coined the title of this column. Definitely fitting the bill as a beacon is Greta Thunberg from Stockholm, one of this year’s 301 nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize after inadvertently spawning the current global climate change grassroots action by displaying for 30 consecutive weeks the sign ‘Skolstrejk för klimatet (school strike for the climate)’ in front of the Swedish Rikstag.

It is indeed poignant that students have had to take matters into their own hands to possibly stir the waters and rattle the current status quo characterised by the general lack of volition of the global decision-making community. This has failed to take the climate change bull by its horns and settle for some real greenhouse gas emission cuts as entrenched in those international agreements that the same community had paid lip service to.

The current global groundswell by students traces its roots to 1968, which is etched in the annals of history for the prolonged stint of street protests, largely led by students in cities worldwide, calling for social reform, including a plea to stop environmental destruction. Four years later, this momentum galvanised the organisation of the first Earth Summit held in Stockholm in 1972.

It is indeed poignant that students have had to take matters into their own hands to rattle the current status quo

But does climate change actually get our mainstream youth ticking? It certainly does in the case of schoolchildren, who are, commendably, increasingly being exposed during school hours to the climate change thematic through updated curricula. A very small fraction of these students will remain true to the induction received during these years and will remain active in environmental advocacy as they grow up, either within the folds of environmental NGOs or through the AD and PD political parties.

A silver lining within the generally drab climate change debate is that scepticism about the science underscoring the human influence on climate change and the likelihood of catastrophic impacts occurring in the next few decades is much less prevalent within younger generations, who are generally more receptive to evidence-based arguments than the older ones.

This scepticism, despite the sheer breadth of incontrovertible scientific evidence, is rearing its head more and more within the older generations, borne of paranoia and conspiracy theories in many cases, to the tune of “climate change is all a plot to make citizens pay more for goods and services whilst the upper echelons still guzzle it out”. The rise of such scepticism, which has no scientific grounding, is a bane which is potentially as insidious as the lack of action by decision-makers.

Politics beyond the partisan

In a recent spirited exchange of views I had with a political exponent over the Gżira MIDI development, I was basically dismissed through a quip which left me gobsmacked and which is reflected in the following paraphrasing: “I am a doer and this explains why I am in politics... what exactly has been your public contribution so far?”

It might be a howler but it embodies the prevailing belief out there that power is only wielded by politicians who are revered in demi-god status. Such a mindset snubs the contribution of civil society in all it forms by promoting a top-down governance model, where change can only be brought about by those occupying public office.

Even more sobering are the corollaries that partisan politics is the only feasible form of politics and that you are a mere pawn if you don’t constitute part of the political class.

As for the first consideration, such an odious mindset is all too understandable given the emphasis placed on partisan divisions even from a young age, with political parties infiltrating our Sixth Form institutions and both parties embarking on early stage recruitment programmes. The second consideration is a direct consequence of our colonial past, which in turn begets an intrinsic need for clientelism.

The most compelling way to respond to politicians’ taunts that they hold the reigns of power is to promote the thankless, untiring efforts of civil society in all its forms which, despite the odds and away from the limelight, is the real driver of change.

Luckily, some political exponents are all too aware of such efforts and branch out to the civil society actors in question. It takes a savvy observer to tease out these judicious politicians from the nondescript majority.

alan.deidun@gmail.com

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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