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Yesterday I had to do a double take when a press release landed in my inbox, titled the “Children’s climate press conference”. It alerted members of the media to the fact that Boris Johnson would be hosting a conference for children aged eight to 12-years-old on the Government’s eco strategy.
Shortly after the notification, the Prime Minister and Tanya Steele, Chief Executive of the WWF UK, were filmed in Downing Street’s press briefing room, speaking to this young audience. There, in highly technical terms, Johnson levelled with his listeners about the state of the climate crisis, warning that COP26 was going to be “very very tough”, and that he was “very worried, because it might go wrong”, before inviting them to ask questions.
“What are you doing to reduce plastic usage?” asked one youngster. “Why aren’t electric cars cleaner, cheaper and easier to use?” asked another. And then there was the more direct instruction: “I would like you to incentivise industries to be eco-friendly in the materials they use.” All of which definitely sound like the natural questions of young children.
The fashionable view on the Kids Climate Press Conference is, of course, that it’s fantastic that the next generation is so clued up on the environment, as well as utterly endearing. Only days earlier children in Scotland were filmed delivering messages for world leaders about climate change ahead of COP26, in what was presumably meant to leave viewers feeling deeply inspired. But I felt far from this when one girl said she was “really scared about the future.”
“I’m really scared about the future…”
These Glasgow schoolchildren have messages for world leaders about climate change ahead of the COP26 summit due to be held in the city.#COP26 | @COP26 | 🌏💚🤔🌳 pic.twitter.com/gnryAHWrHT
— TalkTV (@TalkTV) October 21, 2021
It’s obvious – though perhaps it needs repeating to leaders – that children can be alarmed by a great number of things, so telling them the planet is going to explode hardly seems the best idea. Yesterday Steele spoke of there being an “emergency”, but what is a child meant to do with this information, as well as their Prime Minister telling them he’s “very worried”? It is frightening and no doubt gives many nightmares.
Maintaining that children should be left out of the debate is not to diminish the importance of going green, incidentally, but to say that it’s adults’ job to manage the big stuff. What life experience could a child possibly have to know about how best to tackle carbon emissions? Moreover, we have a duty to protect kids as from worrying things. This is a fact you would expect to have more resonance after a year in which they watched society shut down due to a novel virus.
Ultimately, the last few years have seen the young used – by politicians and activists – to sell climate change policies (as well as staying in the EU). The insinuation is that any voter who worries about going green doesn’t care about children’s futures. Yet what’s especially grating is how selective politicians are in deciding what affects a child’s life – as long as it fits into their wider agenda.
Would the Government ever, for instance, have had a Children’s Housing Conference – where they were grilled on where eight to 12 year-olds will live one day? Of course not. Or one where they discuss how future generations will cope with the pandemic bill? We’ll be waiting…
The “Children’s conference” speaks of a deeper complacency within the Conservative Party, whose launch towards Net Zero is receiving very little in the way of Opposition (it is not too far a stretch to suggest the kids yesterday were more effective than Starmer et al).
But it would be much better for politicians to engage with those most affected by the green revolution. In my local area that tends to be tradesmen who are struggling with the transition to electric cars, as a result as how much upgrading their vehicles costs, as well as Low Traffic Neighbourhoods. Can the Government handle some adults in the room?