Greta’s message is clear: don’t keep calm and don’t carry on

March 15, 2019
Author:
Hannah Mowat

Forests can help safeguard our children’s futures

Today Fern’s offices are closed. They are shut in solidarity with the tens of thousands of young people, including some of our children, who are taking to the streets to protest against politicians’ frightening lack of action on climate change.

Empowered by Greta Thunberg, the 15-year old Swedish girl who started #FridaysforFuture by demonstrating in front of the Swedish Parliament, these young people are expressing what many of us feel: disillusionment with the Adults in Power over their failure to act on climate change. 

And not just disillusionment. Anger. Anger that decades of inaction have led to ballooning greenhouse gas emissions. Anger that the decisions being made now are locking in high carbon emissions in the future. Anger that there is only a 12-year window to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5C. And anger that these young people have little power to do anything about it.

Illustration future

In her speech at the European Parliament, Greta raised another reason why young people were incensed: the notion that we could rely on untested technological fixes to help save the planet.

 “[Emission Reduction pathways to keep global temperatures below 1.5 degrees] include negative emission techniques on a planetary scale, which is yet to be invented, and that many scientists fear will never be ready in time and will anyway be impossible to deliver at the scale assumed,” she said.

Here Greta is referring to the fact that it is no longer enough to halt carbon dioxide emissions. As if halting emissions were not hard enough, years of inaction means the next generation must go even further than that.

In their latest report, the world’s most authoritative climate scientists stated that to keep this planet livable, countries need to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and enter a period of ‘negative emissions’ (where more carbon dioxide is removed than put in).

This monumental task becomes even harder when the Adults in Power are only considering solutions that are doomed to fail such as burning trees and trying (but likely failing) to capture the emissions.

Massively reducing emissions will be hard, but it is achievable with today’s technology.

Removing emissions from the atmosphere will be even harder, but it can also be done with today’s technology - natural forests.

A recent report commissioned by the Climate, Land, Ambition & Rights Alliance (CLARA), which Fern is a member of, showed that low-risk solutions such as upholding land rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities to restore their ecosystems, could remove almost 10 gigatons of carbon dioxide per year by 2050. And if that sounds a lot, it’s because it is. Ten gigatons is the weight of about 146 billion people. We could remove an amount of carbon from the atmosphere equal to 19 times the weight of the current world population – each year.

And the upside is that there is no downside. Clarifying rights and being kinder to our forests and landscapes also improves our health and wellbeing and benefits the countless species on the edge of extinction, all at a relatively low cost to the economy.

Greta said that she doesn’t want our hope. She doesn’t want us to Keep Calm and Carry On. She wants us to panic. And once the adults in Power are panicking, she wants us to act.

This is the greatest fight in human history. Its outcome, as the writer Bill McKibben puts it, “will reverberate for geologic time”. The thousands of children boldly taking to the streets today are up for the battle. It’s up to our politicians, and the rest of us, to follow.

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