Millions of people, mostly the young, from across 185 countries took to the streets of towns and cities around the world on Friday, September 20, united across time zones and cultures to take part in the largest climate protest in history to demand urgent action from governments and every sector of society to save our planet.
The protesters were all united around their global demand, a single theme: Cut emissions and stabilise the climate. This upsurge of discontent with governments, politicians, big business, etc. has taken many by surprise. Politicians in democracies who rely upon voters to keep them in power are now fully awake to the new risks they are now exposed to. In the future the support of the young voter is no longer guaranteed due to their support switching to parties and politicians who will bring about change.
After the protests I watched a video with mourners gathering in Iceland to commemorate the loss of the Okjokull Glacier, which has died at the age of about 700. The glacier was officially declared dead in 2014 when it was no longer thick enough to move. What once was glacier has been reduced to a small patch of ice atop a volcano.
I decided to check out the Tasmin Glacier which is the longest glacier in New Zealand. I traversed the glacier almost 20 years ago when it was 28km long to climb the Hochstetter Dome mountain at the head of the glacier.
Although not up there with some of the highest mountains in the world, this mountain at just under 10,000 feet tall, was a fantastic mountain to climb. The initial ascent started around four in the morning and is a vertical climb using ice axes and crampons. When dawn breaks and you look down through your legs there is a vertical drop of almost 1,500m down to the Whtaroa Valley.
Today the Hohstetter Dome mountain is still the same mountain but down below the Tasmin Glacier is very different. It has shrunk down to 23.5km, shrinking 4.5km since I traversed the glacier. What is really worrying is the fact the glacier has shrunk by 3.7km between 2000 and 2008.
I’m no expert but this story seems to me to be one that clearly demonstrates the mess we are in today. The evidence suggests our addiction to fossil fuels and our behaviours are seriously impacting the climate and as a result impacting many lives today. For example, this year around seven million people will die due to air pollution.
If today I was in my twenties, I would be very worried about my future driven mostly by the lack of action by so many in power. I know there is no quick fix as it took us a long time to get to where we are today, but inaction seems not just wrong but suicidal.
It is not all bad news with many positive steps being taken by countries across the world. Consumers are moving from petrol or diesel cars to electric vehicles and many are using car sharing and public transport as an alternative to owning a car.
Based upon the story above I appreciate the scale of our problem and hopefully those in power will listen to the young and take appropriate actions.
Gordon is the former president and chief executive of BMMI. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org