Student Strikes For Climate Change: The Contradictions Of A Highly Aestheticised Movement

Just over a year ago, the then 14-year-old Greta Thunberg, started protesting to her local parliament in Sweden, for faster action on the global climate change crisis. Fast forward 13 months, to today, and one girl’s protest has spread to a world-wide phenomenon, aiming to emphasise a sense of urgency before the United Nations Climate Summit, happening on the 23rd of September.

Thunberg’s efforts, too many of which exist, to all be listed, should not and are not going to be undermined in any sense. The contradictions that emerged, prompting my issues with students striking for climate change, are specific to my own observations within my small Scottish university town and are not universal, nor are they a criticism of worldwide pleas for our environment.

I can confidently vouch for most others, like myself, who watch the university students’ protests from afar, that we watch from behind the screens of our phones. We watch our friends, or semi-acquaintances, post their banners, fellow protesters or chants on social media; in other words, we witness what my generation does best: “raising awareness.” But what does this actually mean? From googling those two words the first answer is: “what comes with raising awareness is a responsibility to do something about what you’re aware of.” The contradictions, from my personal standpoint, emerge when awareness is being raised, yet little responsibility seems to follow, so, fundamentally, are we raising awareness for the issue or ourselves?

Today [September 20th] the university’s Facebook and Instagram, amongst other platforms, boasts its 3/4 mile line of students down the beach. In three years of attendance at this very university I have yet to witness them boasting about the meat products, single-use plastics or excessive amounts of heating, all used in the library alone. But don’t be mistaken, the university is not the antagonist and despite my cynicism, I recognise many of the efforts they have made at attempting to be more environmentally-friendly. Personally, I understand the university’s actions, simply as a wider, more obvious parallel to our own failings in addressing the issues of climate change: we put on a pleasing, highly aestheticised, display of our small accomplishments, while failing to address bigger, arguably less glamorous, daily issues.

With sheer privilege often accompanies sheer ignorance, as exemplified by Harry and Meghan’s attempt at “educating” the public on climate change, then flying a private jet to a conference for this same issue. In an environment as privileged as this one, it would be difficult to avoid drawing comparisons between the contradictory behaviour of the royals and students. Today the students walk, strike and post for climate change but by this same Friday evening, those same students, will be engaging in at least one listing, from the common environmentally damaging activities: buying single-use plastic cup drinks from the union, smoking cigarettes, eating animal produce, buying clothes online or even consuming drugs.

My issue against students striking for climate change, therefore, arises from the contradictions, which render the protests as an aestheticised, boastful display of “woke-ness” as opposed to a genuine plea for change. I am not writing this from my ivory tower but rather from my single-use-plastic clad kitchen, with the full awareness that I engage in activities that damage the environment on a regular basis. Amongst other things, I take the plane from university back to my home, several times a year. This mundane personal fact is made mundane by its banality, as the sentence is applicable to minimum half the student populace here. Therefore, my issue with the student protesters is not personal or antagonistic, but rather the product of my personal discomfort generated from witnessing an aestheticised social-media display of a ‘community for change’, while, behind the scenes, we, myself included, overlook and fail to adapt our ways to tackle, bigger, less ‘instagram-able’ issues.

I won’t save the environment by myself, although I would like to damage it less; I may be naive in believing that I have managed to do so in certain respects, yet I remain aware that I have a long way to go. Throughout my journey, you most definitely won’t find me at a student protest or on a climate change social media post, and that’s okay. It’s one step at a time, and until the whole walk is done, I refuse to post a picture of the last 3/4th of the final mile.

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