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Youth climate movement worthy, needs to include peak oil


Marches matter, for but revolution to stick, the iMatter movement needs a general strike. Image: iMatter.

Mother's Day was tinged for many this year with a certain sadness.

This melancholy was experienced by kids and moms alike who are wondering why, on climate change, government is failing to take an active role not only in protecting our shared resources; it is also failing to actively structure those resources to offer the best prospect for future generations to thrive.

For that reason, youth in almost 150 cities across the globe have been taking to the streets with the iMatter Movement, a global campaign with a series of marches seeking accountability for the excesses of the fossil fuel era and demanding that key common resources — air, water, arable land, food production, etc. — be protected from corporate interests that would mine them only for current profits without thought of obligations to either people today or future generations.

At the same time, while the group is focused on climate change, they are sadly missing the boat on the twin issue of peak oil. Hopefully they'll realize this omission and include it going forward.

Mother do you think they'll like the song?

Groups with iMatter began marching on May 7th with heightened activity yesterday, in honor of Mother's Day 2011. Actions will continue this week through May 14.

They're thinking that if no one else will listen, at least more moms might. With women and mothers on their side, iMatter youth might be able to gain allies beyond their official partners, and reach into every household across the globe where living, breathing stakeholders are revealed in all their humanity and motherly glory.

With women and moms on board, this movement could really go places. After all, in addition to loving and providing for their kids, a mom's M-O is to help plan for her kids' futures. She's wanting them to fly the nest when the time comes into a world of opportunity and joy -- not a trashed planet with a collapsing economy.

But moms of today's youth can't count on a very rosy future. Climate change is poised to rain serious impediments on the adults of tomorrow. And peak oil stands in tandem ready to shrink back economic and sociocultural opportunity while stalling our kids' futures on everything from food to health to transportation and more.

If moms don't care, by God no one will.

The medium is the message

At the same time, youth being youth, the group's enthusiasm is not always met with the most solid presentation.

The founder of the group, teen climate activist Alec Loorz, 16, who is suing the United States government "for allowing money to be more powerful than the survival of my generation, and for making decisions that threaten our right to a safe and healthy planet," (more power to him), writes:

Our parents’ and grandparents’ generation have created a problem. They’ve developed a society that depends on burning fossil fuels, like coal and oil, to survive. They never realized that there were any huge consequences to running our lives with fossil fuels. But now, we do.

It's all your fault

It's all well and good to try to get to the root of a problem, but starting generational warfare may not be the best tack.

I say this because like Loorz, my own daughter Anwyn is also 16. That means his generation's parents are...me. But as best as I can tell, I was born into the exact same paradigm as him.

When baby Lindsay came along in 1966, America already had suburbs, an interstate highway system, coal-fired power plants, an electrical grid, telephones and convenience appliances. And in spite of 1967's Summer of Love, my parents' generation didn't succeed in transcending commercial mass culture As Seen on TV or undo our culture's fixation on acquisition and gaining social status through ever-increasing consumption.

Many of that summer's "lovers" were said to become the "me generation," strutting around in polyester leisure suits and raising us latchkey kids on Happy Days and Three's Company while embracing Atari, Pong and VCR's for our entertainment and distraction.

Yet in spite of what you hear, we of the so-called Generation X are not all pining for wood-paneled rooms and commercialized nostalgia. In fact, we think we're getting the shaft coming and going. On the one hand, our own Boomer parents think we're rabble rousing organics-obsessed complainers who can't appreciate the fossil fuelled luxuries we're so lucky to enjoy. On the other, our kids resent our reactions against those fossil fuels with our tofu stir fries, brown-bag lunches and time-limits on their computer use.

Like all people, we're just doing the best we can. And sometimes that work is pretty damn good, like returning to nursing our babies and embracing the DIY ethic.

The beat goes on

Even my mom, born in 1940, enjoyed life amidst post World War II excesses as the nation breathed a collective sigh of relief, replacing Rosie the Riveter with appliances and suburbia for all as crude oil, a key ingredient in the Allied victory, was bent to a new purpose: constant and excessive consumption. From what we hear, after facing down Adolf Hitler and enduring home-front deprivations from gas rationing to scrap metal drives, her generation needed drive-ins, sock hops and Marilyn Monroe to assuage nightmares of Hiroshima.

Fossil fuel luxuries go back even further. Even as a child, my grandmother, born in 1917, rode in her parents' motor car under the gas lamps of her tree-lined street in Seneca Falls, New York and later, in the National Cathedral neighborhood of Washington D.C. And why shouldn't she? Life was tough enough. After her parents' generation survived the trenches and mustard gas of the Great War, her generation would have to endure bootleggers and gangland violence, stand in the bread lines of the Depression and watch the Midwest blow away in the Dust Bowl.

From my grandmother and her parents down to me, we've all partaken of the conveniences of the Age of Oil. Yet, none of us "created the problem" of climate change. We lived through it. Now throw in peak oil.

So, here we all are.

Who's your daddy?

It's not the ordinary parents and grandparents and even great-grandparents of Alec Loorz and his generation who bear the blame for society's ills. In my compassionate moments, I'm not even sure it's the corporations who are to blame, though their single-minded pursuit of profits ultimately does prohibit a holistic view of real-world consequences while undermining fairness to populations through externalized costs.

Is the love of comfort and the excitement about new technology that Loorz's generation shares with all the rest of us to blame? Or was selling more stuff intended to make life easier just a good idea by business interests gone too far—or just plain gone bad?

It's important to keep that compassion I mentioned in mind, because to build awareness of a problem the size of climate change, convince others to care about or believe in the problem and then work to fix or at least address the problem is monumentally difficult in the best of circumstances.

But array that problem against issues of equal importance — food production, economic interests, the predominant cultural ethos, and mundane concerns of the day to day — and against interests squarely pitched against you, such as corporate greed and excess, and it's no wonder that the problems persist.

This is why it's difficult, if not outright unhealthy, for young people to blame the generations before them for climate change.

The truth is that many in our generations have laid the groundwork through countless efforts, from Rachel Carson's Silent Spring to the Sierra Club to in-school recycling to Earth Day to home births to Waldorf schools to raising voices when there was no hope. All of this set the stage for a tipping point when society will finally decide to take serious action on climate change.

If Alec Loorz and iMatter help tip the balance from apathy, denial and resignation to resolute action, youthful enthusiasm will surely deserve much of the credit. But young climate activists today should not forget that they also stand on the shoulders of giants.

To respond to climate change, it's good to know who's really to blame and who are your real enemies or opposition. But not at the price of pointing the finger too broadly, alienating the very people you hope to court.

Okay, so rant over.

I still think what these kids are doing is great.

With that in mind...

That said, this movement offers an amazing opportunity to shift the conversation, to reach that tipping point on both climate change and peak oil.

Now that so many more people have achieved consciousness, while all being somewhat stuck in the dominant paradigm — who reading this on home screens, laptops, or mobile devices isn't supporting the very system we purport to undo? — we need to craft energy descent plans the world over, along with practical solutions and cultural solutions and social solutions and economic solutions to make the shift in a way that works.

But for this to work, everyone will have to sacrifice (Speaking of generations, which kid do you know who's ready to give up their iPod for the cause?). And a whole heckuva lot of consensus will be necessary about which models of consumption to trash, and which to preserve or create.

By necessity, this means a combination of idea strategies (moving hearts and minds through communications) and action strategies (creating community gardens, Transition groups, walking/cycling, voluntary simplicity etc.) along with political solutions (voting the right leaders in, legislation, activism).

And as anyone will tell you, this takes time. Social change happens glacially most of the time. Only rarely does change come rapidly as in a revolution.

If not now, when?

On revolution, though, Loorz is ripe and ready.

Citing Thomas Jefferson's notion that we need a revolution every few decades, Loorz says that youth, lacking a vote and in large part lacking a voice, need to save their own bacon through revolution. I'm all for that. I know revolutions can get dicey at times but, being born in the transformation-minded Chinese Year of the Fire Horse, I've been chomping at the bit for revolution for most of my life, even if the iMatterers see me and mine as the source of the problem.

It will be interesting to see Loorz's case against the US government go forward. I support it and him. Nothing is more necessary in my view than stripping corporations of the rights they've gained to further dominate Washington, granting them effective citizenship and by extension winning the legal equation that money equals speech. Such wins give a whole new meaning to the term money talks while sending the message that Uncle Sam has priced the poor out of democracy altogether save their passive votes.

That's hardly what I would call a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

The one thing I almost never hear spoken of in the US though, is use of the general strike. This is when everyone willing to take action on an issue — and it takes a clear majority — shuts down work and commerce and activity and takes to the streets until victories are won.

In the US, which has become a plutocracy where government is unaccountable to the people except in name only but is actually beholden to corporations, ideas, action and politics will take us only so far. For Loorz's revolution to work, we'll need a general strike — a moment when everyone is listening and the demands are unmistakable.

Lead on, kids.

-- Lindsay Curren, Transition Voice

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