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RUSSELL WANGERSKY: Out of the mouths of babes

Hundreds of Island students took part in a large rally Friday in Charlottetown as part of the Global Strike on Climate. Most of the protesters weaved through the streets of the city chanting “climate justice’’ and calling on all levels of government to act. JIM DAY/THE GUARDIAN
Hundreds of students from Prince Edward Island took part in a large rally Friday in Charlottetown as part of the Global Strike on Climate, as did people from across the country. — SaltWire Network file photo

Once, not all that long ago, during one of the occasional spasms of patriotism that grip this place, I was designated a traitor to the province for what I was writing, and anonymous callers advised me that they knew where I lived and, one morning, I might not have windows anymore. (It’s not acceptable, but it happens.)

At the same general time, a house in my neighbourhood that seemed to be in the small-scale drug business had gotten a little larger-scale — evening drop-offs of pickup truck loads of “supplies” and regular traffic of nervous people with shopping-bag-sized packages, along with occasional explosive fights in the street.

We were on the horns of a dilemma about it: how to keep the kids safe without scaring them unnecessarily. So, we downplayed just exactly what was going on, but we did tell them what we wanted them to do if they heard breaking glass.

Why tell you this?

Friday’s climate marches, and the message that children — sometimes very young children — seem to be getting about their futures. I realize that television reporters are always looking for the best and most engaging clip, but watching coverage of Friday’s march, I was startled that some of the children being interviewed were so very young — sometimes, five or younger — and that what they view as the world’s likely fate is as dire as the complete extinction of humanity.

Kids of that age have no agency over their lives — no control whatsoever. Not one iota of change in their lives is up to them, and often, when they talk about issues external to their lives, their only source of information is their parents’ hopes and fears. (That’s why kids almost always start out as fans of their parents’ favourite teams.)

It may be absolutely correct that the planet is facing a climate crisis. It is almost certainly absolutely correct.

But if your household was facing a looming, significant, very real threat, would you be filling your six- or eight-year-old in on every single detail? “Hey kids — you know how Mom’s an undercover police officer? Well, she’s a key player in a big drug case right now, and word is, the bad guys are willing to pay big money to see her dead. Sleep tight!”

Would you say, “Our company is downsizing and we might lose our jobs, so get ready in case we have to sell all your toys and live in a cardboard box”?

“Is there a monster under your bed? No, but random acts of violence sometimes kill small children through no fault of their own. Want your nightlight on?”

I understand the need to carefully prepare children for imminent and significant changes in their lives; I don’t understand engendering fear in children too young to even be allowed to decide whether they want to walk to school or be driven.

If your household was facing a looming, significant, very real threat, would you be filling your six- or eight-year-old in on every single detail?

Keep in mind, I’m not talking about teenagers here. Activists, even young ones, are in short supply, and the rest of us can be awfully set in our ways, as wasteful and hazardous as those ways may be.

But a four-year-old, being told the world is ending in fire, can only be afraid. And for what?

Climate change is serious and needs to be addressed; awareness is a critical element in getting things moving, and a groundswell of young people demanding action is doing more to cause change than anything else seems to be.

Lord knows, without it nothing is likely to change in time to make a difference.

But a five-year-old does not need to live with that fear when they can change nothing. And I’m surprised that any parent would put them in that position.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in SaltWire publications across Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at russell.wangersky@thetelegram.com — Twitter: @wangersky


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