I watched the testimony today as climate change activists Greta Thunberg, Jamie Margolin, Vic Barrett and Benji Backer testified before the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. I love Greta, but she is so well-known that I want to focus for a moment on the other activists, particularly Jamie Margolin and Vic Barrett.
Barrett, particularly, was given less chance to answer questions from the congressional committee members, who seemed more interested in talking with Benji Backer (conservative political views, committed capitalist, nice suit, tie, cleanshaven, white). I am sorry to say it, but it was so glaringly obvious that certain voices were being privileged to the detriment of others. I was also disgusted by the condescension and “mainsplaining” directed at the young people, particularly Greta.
And all that talk about cell phones as a shining example of the benefits of capitalism? What was up with that? Did those particular politicans think that this was how to get youth to listen to them, by mentioning cell phones? Many cell phones are or have been made with conflict minerals from Africa and thus hardly serve as a shining example of progressive capitalism. Read Blood on Your Cellphones, written by Ciara Torres-Spelliscy for Slate in 2013 ). (FYI: I own an iPhone and a Mac. Here is Apple’s 2018 update on conflict minerals. Apparently the company has taken measures to avoid conflict minerals and smelters since about 2014.)
<<As a Fellow with the Alliance for Climate Education, Vic traveled to Paris to attend and speak at the COP21 UN Conference on Climate Change, and joined as a plaintiff in the lawsuit brought by Our Children’s Trust against the United States government for failing to act to protect our climate for future generations. After marching in solidarity with more than 400,000 people at the Peoples Climate March in New York City, he organized his peers in local frontline climate campaigns. Through his activism, he has met with the Minister of Environment and Energy for the Maldives, and met with former U.S. astronaut, Kathryn D. Sullivan, who now serves as the Administrator for NOAA, and had the honor of representing young people as a speaker at the United Nations headquarters in New York City for the High-Level Thematic Debate on Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
Vic is now an undergraduate student at UW-Madison. He currently sits on the diversity committee for the Nelson Institute to help advise and involve students of color in environmental activism, including action at the local level. Vic cares deeply about climate change, justice, and human rights, especially regarding the ways climate change affects young people like him.>>
<<The Zero Hour movement started with our founder, 16-year-old Jamie Margolin. Frustrated by the inaction of elected officials and the fact that youth voices were almost always ignored in the conversation around climate change and the profound impact that it would have on young people, Jamie started gathering several of her friends in the summer of 2017 to start organizing something big, something hard to ignore! Nadia Nazar, Madelaine Tew, and Zanagee Artis joined her in her efforts.
Jamie realized that a national day of mass action, led by youth, would be an ideal platform to ensure that young voices were not only centered in this conversation, but that elected officials and adults would hear their voices loud and clear!
By the end of the summer, young activists from across the country, from diverse backgrounds, had joined the team and the Zero Hour movement had started taking shape.>>
Thunberg, Margolin, and Barrett seem genuine in their lack of self-interest and commitment to doing everything they can to stave off climate catastrophe. In fact, today Thunberg said (paraphrase) “I don’t want you to listen to me. Listen to the science.”
Such quotes as these from this article confirm my impression:
<<Thunberg chastised members of the Senate Climate Change Task Force on Tuesday for inaction.
“Please save your praise. We don’t want it,” Thunberg said. “Don’t invite us here to tell us how inspiring we are without doing anything about it because it doesn’t lead to anything.”>>
<<Jamie Margolin, a 17-year-old climate change activist from Seattle, also scolded committee members on Wednesday for empty praise.
“You’re promising me lies,” Margolin said. “Everyone who will walk up to me after this testimony saying I have such a bright future ahead of me will be lying to my face. It doesn’t matter how talented we are, how much work we put in, how many dreams we have. The reality is, my generation has been committed to a planet that is collapsing.”>>
I found myself less sure of Benji Backer’s agenda. At times he seemed to undermine the messages of the other three and to set himself up as “the realist” (e.g. conservative, capitalist) of the group. Some of the conservative politicians were practically fawning over him. Possibly they were already imagining him as a “fresh young face” for some duplicitous co-option of the youth movement to forestall climate catastrophe.
Meanwhile, the September 20th #ClimateStrike is on the horizon.