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‘Blah, blah, blah.’ Glasgow exposes a divide between old and young people on climate crisis
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‘Blah, blah, blah.’ Glasgow exposes a divide between old and young people on climate crisis


“I can actually watch the people in power just sitting there having a nice day, having a cup of wine,” he said. “I’m furious, of course. It’s about our future.”

The United Nations conference in this city, where representatives of almost 200 countries meet over two weeks, has been widely described as the last chance for catastrophic global warming. President Biden, one of the world’s most powerful leaders, delivered his first week. High-minded speeches were made by diplomats while they pledged to reduce methane, coal usage, and deforestation. Scientists say these promises could have a real impact if they were implemented.

However, there is a strong discontent among young activists who feel that what is happening here amounts only to window dressing. They fear that the world’s top government officials and business leaders are coming up with convoluted solutions, like carbon offsets, that don’t fundamentally alter the dynamics fueling the crisis that younger generations you will inherit.

“They are actively creating loopholes and shaping frameworks to benefit themselves and to continue profiting from this destructive system,” Greta Thunberg, the 18-year-old Swedish activist who has led youth climate protests all over the world, said in a speech to young protesters on Friday, declaring that the conference already was a failure.

“This is now a global north greenwash festival,” she said, as the crowd cheered and clapped, “a two-week-long celebration of business as usual and blah blah blah.”

A rally in Glasgow on Saturday.
A rally in Glasgow on Saturday.ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images

She spoke in Glasgow during what was supposed be a day devoted youth activism within COP. But while Friday’s official programming highlighted the work of some young activists, to many young people, the conference here has reeked of exclusion. Because of COVID-19 concerns, entrance has been severely restricted. This means that protesters’ voices are almost never heard in the cavernous venues and warren of tents where negotiations are taking place.

“Civil society groups are not allowed into the negotiations, and by extension, most youth organizations,” said Babatunde Osho, 33, a delegate with a youth climate group who is originally from Nigeria as he stood near a computerized globe inside the conference. “If you actually judge it by that, you can say they are not given sufficient space to express themselves.”

Protesters claimed that the winding streets of Glasgow were theirs to do this on Saturday. Some wrote “Blah blah blah,” on their cardboard signs, turning Thunberg’s words into a rallying cry, while others banged spoons on drums and danced — anything to make the grown-ups listen. They marched by the thousands through a whipping wind that turned sheets of rain horizontal, unabashedly rotten weather that one protester paid tribute to with a sign that said “Keep Glasgow cold, wet and grey.”

Maja Huebers, 22, traveled three hours by bus from Aberdeen, Scotland, with her friends and a stark sign that said “Terrified of my future.”

She stated that she has worries that older generations didn’t have and wondered if it would be a good idea for her to have children in a world with climate disaster almost certain.

“I want to have a family, but if it’s not safe for my children, it doesn’t make sense,” she said, as people leaned out of Victorian windows three stories above her to wave down at the crowd.

A demonstration in London on Saturday.
Saturday demonstration in LondonDavid Cliff/Associated Press

A survey by Oxford and United Nations Development Programme found that 69% of people under 18 globally consider climate change to be a crisis. The percentage drops to 58% for adults 60 years and older.

Some of these older people joined the protesters Saturday was a day of apologizing for what they feel their generation is causing. And some young protesters brought their parents — including Manu Silverton, 14, who carried a sign his 9-year-old brother had made that read simply, “No litter.”

“Even though it’s probably a small thing, just one person out of this million people here, I just want to do my part and help this world,” Silverton said.

Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey walked through the conference facilities After arriving on Saturday on a military plane with several, we arrived here on Saturday Other senators also praised protesters, even though he couldn’t hear or see them.

“I’m so glad there are protesters outside—I think of them all as international Green New Deal climate strikers,” Markey said, crediting the protesters for “shaping what is happening in the back rooms of Glasgow and every capital city in the world now.”

Alice Barwa, 23, a member of an indigenous tribe in India, said that voices like hers — young, female and indigenous — are being left out of decisions that will shape her life and those of generations to come. She spoke virtually at a COP meeting on Friday, she said, but she couldn’t help feeling that if decision-makers really cared what she had to say, they would have asked her to do so in person.

“The real voices are out here,” she said, as wind carried the cries of the crowd over this old industrial city’s brick chimneys. “And if they want us, we are here.”

Jess Bidgood is reachable at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @jessbidgood.

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