Brisbane students at a climate strike in March 2019 (Image: AAP/Dan Peled)

Hours before they’re due to march, people have begun gathering for the global climate strike.

There’s little to report on the global climate strike as we go to press. It begins here, on Australia’s east coast, in the middle of the day, and spreads around the world for a week, culminating in New Zealand on September 27. Led by students, it has spread to workers, though it is still predominantly an act of the young.

Will it build, year-on-year, to become simply a global strike? Or will it crest and fall, like the global anti-capitalist movement of the late ’90s, or Occupy of 2010, to become a memory? That is not the most important question at the moment. The most urgent matter is to do it, for the young to lead, and for adults to overcome the resistances of age, sloth and habit, to join it.

If you’re reading this at lunch, and you haven’t arranged to attend, try and do it now. Assembly locations are listed at global climatestrike.net.

It has started to become clear to millions that the climate and biosphere emergency is not a matter of the future, even the near-future; it is a matter of the moment-by-moment present. For decades in our culture, the passage to the future has been steadily more individualised: what will I do? What will I become? Most people barely asked that 100, or even 70 years ago. Only the named generations — silents/greatest, boomers, X, Y/millennials — had this at the centre of their lives. But it is now not simply a question of what will happen if one does nothing, but of what happens now if one does nothing.

Critics of the limited action we undertake — “you believe in climate change, but you took your bleeding spouse to hospital IN A CAR! Advantage mine, I think” — accuse us of making symbolic and empty gestures in our protests. In fact, it’s the opposite. The inherited form of individualised life, with its personal trajectory, its goals and benchmarks, is being drained of meaning in the face of universal challenge — for both those entering adulthood, and those now in it.

What does this or that petty career or artistic project or achievement really matter, if exclusive or overwhelming focus on it simply makes it more likely that the society in which it is meaningful is set to come apart? Really, who needs your dumb new product, your pointless book, your tiresome indie movie, etc etc, if there is no future in which to imagine it?

No one who really strives for meaningful achievement does so with a single lifetime as a frame. The fact or possibility of one’s actual children, or a more general notion of future generations, is essential to any sort of life that is projected, that involves projects, in which the meaning of work today is underwritten by the future result. In the shadow of the climate catastrophe, cast from future to present, it is clearly still possible to live a life of pure sensualist hedonism — anything from BASE jumping to sex, drugs and hip-hop — and that makes it clear that the need to respond to the climate/biosphere catastrophe has passed from being a merely moral-obligational demand, to being a moral-existential one.

It’s either total abandon, or commitment to collective action. There is now no middle space to hide in.

Cultures and societies which don’t respond to it — collectively, militantly, non-tokenistically — will simply have the bottom drop out of their world, and of many individual lives. The problems faced, globally, by indigenous people — being deprived of a cultural future and the meaning of intergenerational transmission, with the resultant destructive impact on individual lives — are going to become everyone’s problems, since the human species is indigenous to planet Earth.

To not make a real contribution to this struggle is not merely to make a great deal of present action pointless, it is to make many lives wasted ones in retrospect. All those years spent in beige offices, looking at PowerPoint slides, the unnecessary business trips, the finessed document, the mortgage flip, the private school fees — what will they have been but a ceremonial dance in a way of life being killed?

That will become obvious eventually, because the current strike/emergency movement will lose energy and momentum at some point (though not in the same way as the late ’90s movement, which was still largely done for “the other” — the landless peasant, the child factory worker — and could be retreated from to private existence). Because, when this movement flags, it will have an effect. There is already a wave of suicide and self-harm among the young, with climate change cited as a factor; if that swells, it will shake us to our marrow.

The young do not have the satisfaction of a partially lived life to fall back on, nor the accumulated habits — work, status, fatalism, nostalgia, the sofa, wine and Netflix — to fall back on, as a shield against the truth. They don’t have to make an effort to live without illusion; the reality is right there facing them as their future. They have no option but going forward, and we have no moral option but to support them, and widen the front of the struggle, as a week of global action gets started…

This article is being written as part of the strike. The writer will be donating a proportional part of his wage to the strike, and encouraging his employer to do the same.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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