Youth climate activists in Wales have the right response to an attempt at placation.

On top of the pandemic, 2021 continued the escalation of climate chaos, and our leaders continue to fail us at a breathtaking scale.

It’s been clear to me for a while that political institutions in a lot of the world have gotten very good at ignoring the kinds of activism we’re most used to seeing in liberal democracies. I think that dismissal is particularly bad, and particularly galling when it’s directed at children. Kids who’re socially or politically active tend to both be lauded for it, and rewarded with speeches about how we should listen to the clear-sighted wisdom of the youth, and ignored beyond that.

It feels like it’s all about teaching people to be satisfied with the feeling of doing the right thing, rather than demanding the change that’s actually needed. That’s why I’m pretty happy to see this story out of Wales:

Young members of an environmental group have turned down an award from a council, accusing it of not doing enough to tackle climate change.

Pontypridd’s Young Friends of the Earth has been campaigning for changes to address the climate emergency.

It said Rhondda Cynon Taf council has not done enough since the devastating floods in 2020 after Storm Dennis.

Group member Alice, 13, said: “It would be hypocritical for us to take the award.”

“We feel Rhondda Cynon Taf council – and the world – isn’t taking action against climate change,” she added.

“The major changes we could do as a county would be big decisions and not small day-to-day ones.

“Because if you sit in a house which is on fire you wouldn’t just sit there as the flames surrounded you and start making a plan how you’re going to deal with the fire.

“You’re going to act immediately and get water and you’re going to put the fire out. You wouldn’t sit there doing nothing. The world isn’t in the best shape and they’re not doing enough about it.”

Alice added that there was “action immediately” when the pandemic hit, and the same needed to be done for the climate change emergency.

“We need that with climate change because if we don’t get it sorted out we might not be here.”

When Storm Dennis caused widespread flooding across south Wales in February 2020, Pontypridd was one of the worst affected towns.

Homes and businesses were hit, with the middle of the town centre flooded after the River Taff burst its banks.

“When we saw the town flood last year we knew climate change was getting worse and despite what people were saying about it getting better because it’s not,” said Alice.

“I felt terrified when I saw water running down the main street because if water can reach that high because of a storm, imagine what it will be like in 10 years.”

Dan, 12, another member of Young Friends of the Earth, said: “I would have expected Rhondda Cynon Taf council to declare a climate emergency after the Welsh government did.

“They are one of the few councils in Wales not to declare it and after Storm Dennis I’d have thought it would have been the first thing they would have done.

I very much agree with the sentiment that we need actions, not awards. I’m not actually certain of this, but I feel like there is a lot more that even local governments could be doing, not just in terms of prioritizing the move away from fossil fuels and preparing for extreme weather events, but also in terms of pushing regional and national governments to do more, and helping both their constituents and fellow governmental bodies participate in the pressure campaigns. Ideally, we want the kind of action that can build momentum for greater action in the future.

I’m also encouraged to see the level of strategic thinking involved here:

The group, which has a core of about eight members, was also savvy enough to know that it might get more publicity for its cause if it turned down the award.

They viewed a YouTube clip of the moment in the film Brassed Off when band leader Danny turns down a prize to draw attention to the plight of ravaged mining communities and explains: “Us winning this trophy won’t mean bugger all to most people. But us refusing it … then it becomes news.”

Dan Wright, 12, said: “If we had accepted the award, we might have got in the local paper. More people now will know what we’ve done. Perhaps they’ll join us on a march or do their own research on the climate. When I first heard about the award I felt excited but then thought they were trying to greenwash themselves.”

I don’t think I started thinking about that kind of strategy until I was in my 20s, and it’s encouraging to see it in today’s kids. On the one hand, it continues to be infuriating that children need to spend their time on this, but on the other hand, I think that if we’re ever going to have a truly just and democratic society, we will need to spend less time working to generate profit, and more time involved in our own governance in a far more direct manner than we see in representative democracies. I believe that simply electing representatives and trusting them to do well by us has more or less proven itself to be a failure. It concentrates power in the hands of people who are then able to use that power to further empower themselves, rather like we see in capitalism. As far as I can tell, the only solution is a populace that participates in the running of society at least as actively we we currently participate in wage labor and consumerism.

We should not look to children for hope. That’s an unfair burden to place on them, and an abdication of our responsibility. It’s just another form of selling out their future for our own comfort. What we should be doing, in addition to taking real action on climate change, is educating ourselves and our children about what it means to govern ourselves, and to build and live in a society that values life.

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