If not you then who?
“We are temporarily sacrificing our educations to save our futures from dangerous climate change.”
So says the website for Australian students organising to take to the streets on September 20th to demand action on the climate emergency. See also this interview. They are joining millions of students around the world, and hopefully tens of millions of supportive adults.
Here Jason argues that the church should be there too. He addresses some of the reasons why it is important, and fits well within the Christian tradition, for students to “strike” to demand climate action, and for the church to support them.
First up, let’s be clear. The question is not whether the church should encourage students to “strike” from school. They have already decided to. The question is, what are adult followers of Jesus called to do in response to the school strikes?
Surely at least we might go along to ensure their safety. Volunteer as marshals if that is needed. Take water for people. Show hospitality with some snacks. We could gather in church before the rallies to pray for the students, and for climate action, as churches are in Sydney and Coffs Harbour.
When those students who care enough about the planet and their future to miss a few hours of school to demand action look around, don’t we want them to see that the church is there with them? Aren’t we called to be where people need us, even if it makes us uncomfortable?
Recently, the NSW.ACT Synod resolved, about 300:2, to actively support young people’s climate action, including the strikes. Christian Students Uniting also called on the rest of the church to join them at the Sydney rally and worship service.
In that context, I personally want to actively encourage some students to participate, specifically our Uniting Church students. Uniting Church schools in NSW are amongst the most affluent schools, with the highest emissions statewide. As there is a correlation between wealth and emissions, on average our students will be amongst the highest carbon polluters in Australia, and the world. They ought to be leaders in the climate strike movement, at the very least they need to show up, and not just leave it to the public schools. The presence of a few Uniting Church students at the last school strike was encouraging, I pray that we will see a sea of uniforms this time, joining the call of some of their number for action…
What of the need for Christians to support the rule of law, and democratic process?
In fact, disobeying some rules in service of higher laws is central to our Christian tradition. Followers of Jesus have been doing it, since Jesus. He caused a stir when he healed on the Sabbath, and when he cleared the temple ( Matthew 21:12–17, Mark 11:15–19, Luke 19:45–48, John 2:13–16). Paul broke the law of circumcision (Galatians 5) to bring liberation to the Gentiles, despite it being the centrepiece of the covenant between God and the Jews (Exodus 17:9-14). See more on Paul here, and at more length here. John Squires also has an excellent sermon on Christian disobedience and Acts 16.
The Apostles declared that they, “must obey God rather than any human authority,” when banned from preaching the gospel (Acts 5). Interestingly, their non-violent civil disobedience persuaded the authorities to let them continue to act.
Part of the issue is that the strikers are unable to vote to change the very laws that most affect their future, so they are taking a few hours off school to demand chance, in the face of Government refusal to take sufficient action to halt climate change.
Women were vilified and attacked when they added creative, confrontational actions to their arguments in favour of the equality laws we now take for granted. Civil disobedience also has a long history in the struggle of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their allies for justice.
In both of these movements, people disobeyed some rules to create change in more fundamental laws, which systematically harmed them. And those who benefited from the system criticised them for it. Our current laws pass the benefits of climate pollution to wealthy adults now, and pass the costs on to all our children, to the poor, and to the other creatures we share God’s Earth with. They need to be changed, and students are right to look to creative ways to push for this. Like women, Aboriginal people and their allies, they are being criticised by the pro-coal media, and government.
Of course, we as beneficiaries of climate pollution can take drastic action to reduce our emissions now, but overwhelmingly we are not. So if students stay in school and wait until they are old enough to vote to make changes, it will be too late. According to last years IPCC special report, we have just over 11 years to have dealt with carbon emissions by achieving a 50% reduction. Their modelling assumes that emissions peak next year, but Australia’s are still rising.
So now is the time for new mass movement of students, and those of us who have been calling for climate action for decades, to be joined by everyone who wants a future for this planet, and humanity.
The students are right to demand urgent action, right now. Sadly, our Government is ignoring the science that they are learning in school, and instead is committed to continuing a fossil-fuel based future. The students I’ve spoken to would have been more than happy for the adults to get together and act to save their future, so that they could stay in school. This hasn’t happened.
So when they feel compelled to take to the streets on September 20th, I hope that when they look around it will be obvious that the church is with them, as peers in their school uniforms, and as a large contingent of adults who have their back.
I hope that those who remain unconvinced of the wisdom of supporting student absence from school, and decide not to attend, actively commit to some other action to bring about the scale of climate action needed, so that our students are able to enter a healthy, sustainable and just workforce, which leaves God’s Earth more beautiful than when they inherited it.
-Jason John, one of the Uniting Earth Advocates