“How Dare You!” The Thunderclap of Youth in the Age of the Sixth Extinction

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Greta Thunberg at the UN 2019

The 2007 sci-fi film Sunshine by Danny Boyle and Alex Garland opens on a spaceship full of scientists. Planet earth is enduring an unprecedented ecological catastrophe: the sun is dimming, and as a result our homeworld has grown disastrously cold. In effort to combat this, mankind has used up all their natural resources to produce a massive spaceship equipped with a nuclear device the size of Manhattan island. It has been designed to reignite our sovereign star.

The film begins with the space-faring mission already underway. Interestingly, the movie does not portray what happened to markets, economies, and global governance while they no doubt scrambled to face this life-extinction-level problem. Sunshine does not depict the absolution, unity, and refocused mission of human endeavor that must have been necessary for the world to address this singular and immedate doomsday calamity. It does not show the UN in tears reimagining a way out.

Sunshine is an obvious metaphor for climate change; only our sun’s own lifecycle is the culprit, not the manmade environmental disequilibrium that we are struggling with accepting today.

I always felt that a politically-focused prequel to Boyle’s film Sunshine would make for a fascinating political drama. That is because the movie would no doubt be a film-length exploration that would by necessity have to retrieve the powerful observation made by the American philosopher Fredric Jameson and echoed by the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, “It is easier to imagine the end to the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism.”

The new global environmental youth movement seems keenly aware of this notion, whether they know this particular quote or not.

Indeed, climate activist, Greta Thunberg, said much the same as Jameson and Žižek this week at the United Nations, during a brief yet passionate statement, one that will likely be among the most famous statements ever given in the history of the UN, “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”

Youth and climate activists around the world are galvanized because they realize that when it comes to the adult class there is (1) An unbelievable failure of imagination. (2) An unbelievable focus on capital gains and fixed economic processes as they already exist today. (3) An utter lack of will to face the overwhelming scientific consensus from three decades worth of research in regards to human activity and climate. “There is no planet B,” the children repeat, in many languages.

Thunberg, and the youth of today, is a form activism that I have been waiting for since I first started demonstrating during the Bush Jr. Wars as a teen. Since then, I felt that eventually the very young children of the world would one day wake up and start mobilizing. I imagine we always knew that one day the children—not the power-brokers of the world—but the children of earth, would rise up and say, as Thunberg did at the UN this week, “We will be watching you,” and, “[T]he young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you. We will not let you get away with this.”

I also imagined, way back during the Bush Jr. regime, that one of the factors that would play a part in this eventual global youth movement would be their collective recognition that the schooling they so obediently submit themselves to is entirely irrelevant. Indeed, it is. There is absolutely no purpose or point to any schooling whatsoever, given that, “Our house is on fire,” as the children repeat today. In many languages.

What is the value of school and education when really what the future adults of the world face right now is rising sea levels, famine, forced migration, and extinction? How is reading, writing, and arithmetic going to help the children and youths of the world today, when their own elders are either carelessly or happily dooming their own safety, their own future?

At the current rate of climate change there is no future, and now the youths of the world are so irrevocably in the loop that they have made it all the way to the United Nations to air their just grievances.

Understand: the youth of the world do not want to do this. They are doing it to protect themselves from a very real humanity-wide neglect; a neglect from those whom they have entrusted their own wellbeing with, but whom have ultimately failed to realistically confront. They are hoisting the responsibility onto themselves because their elders and caregivers have forced them to. That is why children are activists, strikers, and protesters today—not, the otherwise, complacent adult class.

This is the exact same reason why some folks in my generation (people in their 30s) and younger have chosen not to have children until climate change is fixed. Emma Lim, 18, launched a climate change movement called “#No Future, No Children,” that includes a website where other teens can take her pledge.

Lim states:

“I am giving up my chance of having a family because I will only have children if I know I can keep them safe […] It breaks my heart, but I created this pledge because I know I am not alone. […] We’ve read the [climate] science, and now we’re pleading with our government.”

When it comes to the dire reality of manmade climate change, fashioned alongside the anemic reaction from many world leaders, there is, in deed, no point to going to school, and there is no point to having children. At all. Not until the problem is fixed.

This is a tragic fact of our collective human enterprise today. This is the reality of climate change, and the reality of human activity upon the face of the earth.

For those who find such positions cynical, hysterical, extreme, or tawdry, I can only repeat Thunberg and the thunderclap of youth in the age of the sixth extinction, “How dare you!”

As Thunberg stated: “How dare you pretend that this can be solved with just ‘business as usual’ and some technical solutions? With today’s emissions levels, that remaining CO2 budget will be entirely gone within less than 8 1/2 years.”

“Business as usual,” as it exists today, is little more than a convenient contrivance, a manmade virtual reality; one we are hopelessly trapped in and one that is not only eating up our planet, not only eating up hundreds of species of plant and animal life, but one that is very much eating up the future of our children.

Thunberg and the youth climate movement of today very much retrieve Spanish painter Francisco Goya’s powerful and haunting image Saturn Devouring His Son.

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Francisco Goya’s ‘Saturn Devouring His Son’ (Detail)

Based on the Greek myth, Goya’s painting depicts the Titan Chronos heartlessly cannibalizing his own children upon their birth, fearing that they would one day overthrow him. The new global environmental youth movement seems keenly aware of this notion, whether they know this particular myth or not. They can feel it looming. That it is an issue of human models, ideologies, and economics that is not only eating the world, but eating them and their future along with it.

Thunberg and the global youth movement carry an emotional weight to them that climate scientists have historically failed to impart upon lawmakers, which is in part why they have become so polarizing.

Thunberg is not the face of any singular ideology. Thunberg is the face of scientific reality—and that is why she is so persuasive.

Science is why she and her peers are not going away…

Children, teens, young people, and many others are not mocking Thunberg. They are not deriding her, nor are they calling her hysterical or mentally ill. They are standing with her in the millions because she is not only forced by circumstance, but she is absolutely focused on the future of her peers, the future of our species, and the survival of our planet’s ecology. It is only older (I argue ‘wicked’) people that are in love with the sound of their own voices, and their own opinions, and their own economic theories that are doing that. It is only those whom are already ankle-deep in hardened ideological concrete that are sharing such cynical and politicized smug brilliance amongst themselves. People closer to death mock the very real plight of our young people and our children—one very much echoing Saturn Devouring His Son.

The weak-witted, sickening arguments (if you can call them that), and blithe unlettered comments by Ingraham, Breitbart, Trump and the like reflect only a grim, thoughtless, realism-lacking, and future-less cynicism—one constructed out of ideology over truth; nothing more. They should be dismissed as the opinions of the vacuous, the absurd, the ideological, the stubborn, the illogical, the heartless, and the frauds. It is worth no sane person’s consideration. It is the work of ideologues.

It is the work of, I dare say, the Minions of Mammon.

Thunberg is polite enough (or, perhaps political enough) to not call people and what they do “evil.” Thunberg said at the UN this week, “But no matter how sad and angry I am, I do not want to believe that, because if you really understood and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil and that I refuse to believe.”

As 17 years her senior, I am not so sure I agree that people are not evil. But I am united in her hope that humanity will fall for the “better angels of their nature.” Especially given that in this impeding climate catastrophe, truly no one and nothing is assuredly safe.

Before Anonymous was the decentralized global hacktivist collective that they are today, they made a splash in 2008 during a protest they called Project Chanology, which was aimed against the Church of Scientology. It was during that protest they gained a small bit of international media recognition. Attention focused on their use of the writer Alan Moore’s iconic V for Vendetta Guy Fawkes masks, and the organic nature of their movement. It was there and then in 2008, during Project Chanology, that I predicted Anonymous and the Guy Fawkes mask meme would become an international phenomenon. A phenomenon that would bleed out to confront issues far larger than just the obviously corrupt Church of Scientology. It would take on larger, more globally-relevant targets. During the late 2010 Arab Spring and early 2011 Occupy protests, I was proved right.

My new prediction is that the deniers of manmade climate change, those who attempt to stymie broad and radical emissions reformation, and anyone else who drags their feet against the reality of the sixth extinction will have to square-off against not just against leftists, not just against the Extinction Rebellion, not just natives all over the world—but they will have to face all the youths of the world. And with those youths, they will have to face their own children as well. And not just for a season. Not for a quarter. But for the rest of their natural lives.

Fighting children, the inheritors of the earth, is the new face of late capital.

My comment to all youths is simply this: You are right. Don’t go to school. Don’t focus on what you are being told to focus on. You are studying and preparing for a future that does not exist. Don’t have children. There will be no safe ground for your progeny to stand on. Fight. Fight for the future.

Only the heartless, or the hopeless, or the utterly brainwashed ideologues can possibly claim to be unmoved by Thunberg and the youth climate movement of today.

When your own children come after you, then you must know that you are horribly wrong.

To the climate-conscious persons of the world, I say this with no pleasure, and no irony; in the words of Blue Submarine no. 6:

“Let me repeat that: if this mission fails, if we are unsuccessful, we have no future.”

If world politics and policy fails to immediately and drastically address climate change, then they will not have to deal with more than just melting ice caps, rising sea levels, mass migration, famine, and the veritable end of human civilization—they will also have to deal with the reality that they are de facto conscripting all the people of the world against them, including their own children. Suck that in.

Those who hold thoughtlessly true to the status quo and hope for the best, I have the most pity for. History will not shine lovingly upon them, upon all of you.

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A cartoon from The New Yorker

To echo Thunberg, “Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.”

I dare say, World War III has undoubtedly been the Information War that McLuhan predicted. But WWVI is nigh upon us. And WWVI is a climate policy war; one wherein, no one is safe—literally no one—no matter their economic stead in life.

It is only manmade climate change that could dwarf the Cold War’s horror nuclear armageddon—and it already has.

If Thunberg and the global youth climate movement fails to help lawmakers, politicians, and the corporate power elite see the error of their ways as well as the drastic necessity for change, I honestly fear what it will take for them to wake up.

To my allies whom haunt their teens, 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond, I can only reiterate the comments of contemporary Young Adult novelist and mastermind behind The Hunger Games franchise, Suzanne Collins, ”Remember who the real enemy is.”

Remember who the real enemy is.

For there is no stronger signal in all the universe than one’s own children soberly telling us, as Thunberg said, “This is all wrong.”

May the Creator have mercy on us when our own children call us out against the virtual realities and beliefs that we’ve inflicted upon the planet with such impunity and false authority.

May the Creator, Sustainer, and Lover of all Life have mercy upon us all.

Author of '3 Essays on Virtual Reality', global speaker, artist, humorist, futurist, netizen, critic & psychonaut Patreon.com/OddEdges EliottEdge.com IEET.org

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