Cynicism isn’t wisdom
How the youth climate strikes movement helps me hold on to hope in the face of climate catastrophe
Working at an environmental campaigning group can be hard, sometimes it feels like me and my colleagues take turns having an existential crisis about the state of the planet. I have joked with friends about how we should train for the upcoming climate apocalypse and exclaimed that I call it the ‘Apocalypso’ as it is more palatable if it sounds like a retro ice-cream. When I find myself feeling very bleak about the future I remind myself of a piece of graffiti I walked past years ago – it simply read ‘Cynicism isn’t wisdom’. The Youth Climate Strike movement has brought this sentiment to life.
The older I get, the more I feel cynicism seeping into me – despite clear scientific evidence action on climate change is nowhere near good enough. The findings of the latest IPCC report are clear and the situation grave. To meet the commitment to a warming limit of 1.5°C made under the Paris Climate Agreement, widespread, deep ranging and radical transformation is required. The youth climate strikes remind me of the power of the collective, our capitalist society convinces us we only have agency in our individuality (buy this reusable water bottle and hemp tote bag and YOU can make a difference), moreover it is all too easy to fall into the ‘what can one person do’ trap. When we believe we are just one person with limited power that’s when we lose all power. The strikes remind me to stop thinking of myself as an individual and remember that we are a movement. We have agency beyond what we can buy (ethical consumerism will not save the planet), we have our time, we have our labour and we have our voices. The strikes also remind me of a time when I believed so much was possible – maybe we need that belief now more than ever. To avert climate catastrophe we need to essentially change the world in a multitude of ways – that is going to take a lot of imagination. We need to go beyond what society has told us is important, such as going to school, as a society that doesn’t respect the planet needs to have a few rules rewritten.
The strikes have also added joy and humour to the climate movement. A witty sign will not end climate change but it does more than a cynical tweet. They have reignited the urgency of the situation, climate change is happening now. The Amazon is on fire, those of us who are privileged enough to not yet be massively impacted by climate change can not allow ourselves to believe that just because it isn’t happening to us means it isn’t happening. It is tempting to wallow in despair, but those of us who have the capacity to contribute to a better future should do what we can, as the comedian Josie Long reminds me ‘Despair is a luxury’.
In a recent piece, the author Jonathan Franzen essentially declares that it is all over and states we need to ‘rethink what it means to have hope’. For me, hope lies in the realisation that we are better than capitalist greed believes us to be. It lies in accepting that nothing we do may ever be enough but we should still do something. It lies in a witty sign that makes me smile.
As Beckett wrote; ‘You must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.’ Even though it may be too late, I’ll go on. Will you join me?
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