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I WAS given hope this month by the 1.5 million school students who staged a global strike to protest attack on our planet’s ecosystem through fossil capitalism, the destructiveness of a growth-obsessed global economy, and our complete undervaluing of biodiversity for sustaining life on Earth.

Students’ posters’ messages were: “Our planet is changing. Why aren’t we?” “Make Earth great again,” “There is no planet B,” “Denial is not a policy,” “We’re missing lessons to teach you one,” “The clock is ticking and time is against us,” “We are the last generation that can fix this,” “The oceans are rising, so are we,” and one highly relevant to our region, “Think or swim.”

The strikes were on every continent. These were youth whose future is in peril because of their parents’ generation. Things were quiet in TT, but they should not have been.

All Caribbean children’s individual aspirations are threatened by climate change. From Mozambique to Nebraska, just this week, we’ve seen that success can be cut down over mere days. We’ve already seen that in Dominica, Barbuda and Puerto Rico.

Students are demanding governments declare “a climate emergency.” This would seem extreme if only it wasn’t so realistic. The last 19 years included the warmest years on record, worsening food and water security risks as well as extreme floods, droughts and heatwaves.

Globally, in 2017, disasters triggered by weather- and climate-related hazards led to a US$320 billion loss, reports the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate. Business-as-usual growth could mean over 140 million climate migrants by 2050, according to the World Bank.

Outdoor air pollution, largely from fossil fuel combustion alone, is estimated to result in 4.2 million premature deaths annually. That’s Sahara dust problems multiplied.

What if our students decided to strike in solidarity (and they still could – every Friday), what would adults say? Should students stay in school and pretend that good grades will mean good jobs, and that success depends on conformity to the status quo? “No. This is the most important lesson of all,” answered many teachers and parents who supported the more than 2,000 protests in over 120 countries.

In October 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a Special Report on the Impacts of Global Warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius. It gave us 12 years to act. “While solutions increasingly exist, especially in the energy sector, there is as yet no movement on global action commensurate to the challenge,” writes Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum.

There are clear plans out there for how to respond by developing on renewable energy rather than fossil fuels, smarter approaches to land development, shifts to more sustainable forms of agriculture, protection of forests, wiser water management, and more efficient and circular use of metals, petrochemicals and construction materials.

There are also calls for governments to put a price on carbon and move toward mandatory climate risk disclosure for major investors and companies. Even more, the call is for net-zero energy systems because models show that, to avert dangerous levels of climate change, global carbon dioxide emissions must fall to zero.

The New Climate Economy report puts it well: “Current regulations, incentives and tax mechanisms are a major barrier to implementing a low-carbon and more circular economy.

“For example, they slow down the penetration of new building materials in construction activity. In agriculture, they subsidise the application of too much mineral fertiliser, diverting innovation activity away from more sustainable forms of farming.

“They make it cost-competitive to deploy single-use forms of plastic packaging, contributing to the plastics crisis we are now seeing in the oceans.

“They make it hard to design products in a way that maximises component reuse. Along with getting carbon pricing right, we also need to tackle a host of other policies which are protecting the old inefficient, polluting economy.”

An example of a small step we can locally get right is TT’s Beverage Container Bill, now 20 years in the making.

The student strike makes sense because, despite our signing onto the Paris Agreement, Cabinet is twiddling its thumbs while the hills burn, WASA issues water-shortage warnings, and there’s insufficient plan or implementation to reduce our footprint.

It’s not too late for Caribbean students to join their peers in global action. Across race, class, religion and geography, this is the single issue in which thousands of children have a greater investment in showing up in front of Parliament than in showing up at school.

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