Leona O'Neill: School climate change strikes putting kids' education at risk

Greta Thunberg has inspired millions of kids to follow her lead by staging 'climate change strikes'. However, as Leona O'Neill writes, children should not be allowed to jeopardise their education for the sake of our planet

Greta Thunberg has inspired kids around the world to take action against climate change

MY SON came to me last Thursday night asking if I'd write him a note so he could attend a climate change protest the next day. Ever the sceptic, I asked him was it really on or was he just trying to bunk off school.

I was aware of the big climate change strike on the 21st and gladly gave him permission to attend this. I didn't think it was happening every Friday. He told me it was definitely going ahead that Friday and every Friday and all his class were going, so I signed it.

Next day I was at work and got a call from his teacher. She said that she was concerned about the strike – as in if it was actually on – and that only five kids out of his class had permission letters from parents and she was just ringing around to confirm that we actually wrote the letters and wanted them to go.

Environmental activist Greta Thunberg – who became a viral hit last year when she abstained from school in Sweden to raise awareness of the climate crisis – has captured her generation's interest in this issue. She is at the forefront of the Global Climate Strike movement. The 16-year-old's protests outside Swedish parliament in 2018 sparked the #FridaysForFuture movement, where students leave school and protest outside their town hall.

I told my son's teacher that I had initially thought the entire school were taking part in this protest, but that if he was going to be missing crucial classes in the run-up to his exams that I would not be giving permission for him to go. I said that I would much prefer my son – who is 14-years-old, mad about science and wants to head into that field – to get a good education, find a great job in science and set about saving the world that way, not – no harm to Greta – taking every Friday afternoon off to stand at our city hall.

I'm not in any way criticising Greta for her valiant efforts to raise this issue. There is no doubt that this ballsy young woman has breathed new life into the climate change debate in a way that no adult has ever been able to. She has captured the interest of a generation in a way that huge commercial companies can only dream of.

Last week the now celebrity teen activist broke down in tears while speaking at the United Nations Climate Action Summit 2019 in New York, berating delegates for failing to take responsibility for the earth's warming climate.

"I shouldn't be up here," she thundered.

"I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us for hope. How dare you. You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words, yet I'm one of the lucky ones. People are suffering, people are dying, entire ecosystems are collapsing."

Greta's courage to speak up against the likes of Donald Trump and indeed scold world leaders for ignoring climate issues is to be admired. She has strength, she has a voice, she has a platform, she has a message. But she is right – she should be at school, and she shouldn't be encouraging others to skip school either.

Her parents may well feel content with allowing their daughter to step onto the often cruel world stage, facing intense criticism and bullying from some quarters. They may feel OK about her taking a year off school to bring about more action on climate change, but I'm not OK about my kid's schooling being disrupted by Friday protests. I think it will achieve nothing except our children falling behind in their studies.

If kids are that interested in climate change, which I know mine and many others are, they won't mind giving up their Saturday morning to make a stand.

Proclaiming this opinion is not an attack on Greta. I think she is a strong and amazing young woman who will go down in history for her activism. She has ignited a spark in young people and rallied them to care enough about their world and their future that they gather en masse and protest. She has made world leaders listen.

Greta has lit the fire, now it's time that those in power take the torch and make things happen. We have heard Greta's catastrophic predictions and we need positive solutions from those who have the power the act so they can finish the job and take the burden off our youngsters.

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