Hillary Clinton says ‘something extraordinary’ is happening over climate change as teenagers like Greta Thunberg in Sweden, Anuna De Wever in Belgium and Holly Gillibrand in Fort William lead school-strike protests, writes Susan Dalgety.
Hillary Clinton passed a powerful baton earlier this week to a new generation of women. In a tweet, she pointed out that something “extraordinary” was happening in Europe “and perhaps soon in America”.
She went on: “Teen girls are leading a movement to stop climate change.” Intrigued, I clicked on the link and whole new world opened up in front of me.
I had no idea thousands of school girls in Sweden, Belgium and Germany were boycotting classes in protest against climate change, inspired by 16-year-old Swede Greta Thunberg.
Greta has become somewhat of a celebrity since last August, when she started skipping school every Friday to picket the Swedish Parliament to demand MPs meet the country’s obligations under the Paris Agreement on climate change.
When I was Greta’s age, I cut classes to wander the streets of our small Galloway town, furtively smoking Number 6 and dreaming of David Bowie. The nearest I got to protest was drawing a CND symbol on my history jotter.
Greta now has a CV all Generation Z campaigners dream of, and she is still two years away from being able to vote.
She has given a Ted Talk, has hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers, and in a move that would impress even the most jaded baby-boomer politician, she spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month.
And she has inspired other young women to make their voices heard. Belgian student Anuna De Wever, 17, is leading protests every Thursday, which have swollen to as many as 30,000 a week taking part. “It’s given me a voice better than voting,” she said in a recent interview.
And in Germany, environmental campaigner Luisa Neubauer, 22, says that Greta’s example has inspired more young women to speak up about the single biggest issue facing the world.
Greta’s influence has now spread to the UK. Yesterday, students from more than 60 towns and cities left their classrooms to take part in a co-ordinated climate change protest.
One of Scotland’s most determined teen campaigners is 13-year-old Holly Gillibrand from Fort William. She has been skipping school for an hour every Friday since the new year. She and a few of her friends picket the school gates with banners demanding: “End the Ignorance.”
Holly, who displays a calm determination I still aspire to, told the BBC earlier this week that the threat of detention was a small price to pay for making her voice heard.
“If you get a detention, that’s nothing to how we will suffer in future if nothing is done,” she said, adding, “I want to get Scottish leaders to take climate change seriously and [know] that they’re destroying my future.”
The poster girl for these young women eco-warriors is junior US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, known to her three million Twitter followers and senior political commentators alike as AOC.
Last year AOC was a New York barmaid, with a strong social conscience and hair to die for.
She is now one of America’s leading politicians, tipped to become a future President, and seems determined to single-handedly transform the Democrat Party from a centrist establishment party into a green, socialist movement.
And central to her ambitions is the Green New Deal, which she unveiled last week with a middle-aged, grey-haired, male senator, Ed Markey.
In what could be a sign that the future is truly female, Markey’s involvement in the launch was completely overshadowed by AOC’s vibrant, Insta-friendly political charisma.
Their ambitious plan is modelled on Franklin Roosevelt’s economic New Deal which rescued Americans from the 1930s Great Depression.
It proposes nothing short of a revolution in America’s economy to tackle climate change, and argues that clean water, adequate healthcare and education, as well as healthy food, should be accessible to all Americans, regardless of income.
Not surprisingly, it was met with derision by President Trump and his Republican Party enablers.
He tweeted: “I think it is very important for the Democrats to press forward with their Green New Deal. It would be great for the so-called “Carbon Footprint” to permanently eliminate all Planes, Cars, Cows, Oil, Gas & the Military – even if no other country would do the same. Brilliant!”
But if Trump didn’t welcome AOC’s plan to save America from the terrible damage climate change will wreak, then Millennials and Generation Z fervently embraced it.
Polls show that Americans aged between 18 and 37 support, rather than oppose, the Green New Deal by a 30-point margin.
And members of the Sunrise Movement, who describe themselves as “ordinary young people scared about what the climate crisis means for the people and places we love”, are taking to the road to sell the plan.
They are planning a 15-city tour and a 50-state campaign to build political and public support for the Green New Deal, particularly among young people.
It is easy to dismiss young women like Greta and Holly, or even AOC, as nothing more than naïve day-dreamers.
“They don’t understand how the real world works,” their critics opine. “They’ll get fed up playing politics,” they sneer.
But even a cursory understanding of climate change should be enough to scare all but the most cynical of capitalists.
A temperature rise of just 2C will reduce our food security and damage water and energy resources across the globe. It will lead to widespread migration and conflict, and natural disasters will be more frequent, and even more deadly.
And climate change will affect women and girls much more than men, argues Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the executive director of UN Women.
She warned recently: “Women and girls are the last to eat or be rescued. They face greater health and safety risks as water and sanitation systems become compromised. And they take on increased domestic and care work as resources dwindle. Poverty, meanwhile, leads to earlier marriages, lost education and diminished opportunities.” But the sisters are organising, and are on the march, from Fort William to Washington.
AOC cautioned earlier this week: “Don’t mess with our future. When it comes to climate, it’s all our lives at stake. The younger you are, the more consequences you’ll see. It’s life and death for us. And we will fight like it.”
As President Trump would say: “Brilliant!”