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A nuclear power plant at Camp Century. U.S. Army

The Army never finished what it started at Camp Century. It abandoned the base in 1967, scrapping Project Iceworm, as its secret mission was called. But the Army left behind a nasty legacy buried under all that ice and snow — tons of toxic waste that military officials assumed would stay frozen forever.

Guess they didn’t count on climate change.

Fifty years ago, the Army probably didn’t know about climate change. But now, thanks to global warming, the ice has begun to melt, leaking chemicals the Army thought would stay frozen in perpetuity. This poses a danger to the marine ecosystem, not to mention the potential diplomatic nightmare that could result between the United States and the host country.

Camp Century in Greenland. Google Maps

The ice at Camp Century hid tens of thousands of liters of diesel fuel, large amounts of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and what is believed to be a small amount of low-level radioactive material, according to a recent study Colgan authored, which appears in the journal Global Environmental Politics. PCBs, in particular, are quite dangerous. They are believed to cause cancer and have been linked to a wide a range of other health hazards.

The paper is meant to be a case study for understanding the political, diplomatic and financial ramifications of environmental problems at American military bases, and it underscores the impact of so-called “knock-on” effects, that is, secondary environmental impacts, of climate change. It also raises the disturbing possibility that rising sea levels could wash toxic materials from other coastal military sites into the ocean.

Aerial view of Johnston Atoll base, roughly 850 miles from Hawaii. Wiki Commons

The Pacific Islands are especially vulnerable, the study said, citing U.S. military radioactive waste left during the Cold War at Johnston Atoll and the Marshall Islands. Other toxic materials can be found at additional sites, including Orote Point on Guam, Ulithi Atoll on the Caroline Islands, the Solomon Islands and Midway Island, according to the study. The U.S. Geological Survey currently is studying these potential risks, but their full extent isn’t yet known.

“Those knock-on effects are secondary environmental problems — like damage to infrastructure or the release of chemicals or waste housed on site — that can manifest when temperatures and sea levels rise,” Colgan said. “They matter a lot because they are an increasingly common feature of our world, and the politics of knock-on effects are different from climate change itself. Climate change is a global problem, and therefore hard to pin on any one government or political actor. Knock-on effects are territorially specific, so local people can demand somebody be responsible.”

Hurrican Harvey Response

Members of the Texas Army National Guard travel through streets flooded by Hurricane Harvey, Aug. 28, 2023.

Knock-on effects must be treated as seriously as direct ones, Colgan stressed. “Knock-on effects are increasingly common,” he said. “Hurricane Harvey illustrates the problem. Climate change exacerbated a hurricane, making it bigger and nastier than it otherwise would have been, which damaged chemical plants and refineries, which in turn released toxic pollutants. Knock-on effects are also releasing nasty stuff from anthrax to viruses to mercury. As the effects of climate change move increasingly from peripheral places like Greenland to our own homes, we will need to worry more about knock-on effects.”

In November, the General Accounting Office released a report urging the military to do more to anticipate problems from climate change at its installations overseas.

“The United States alone has hundreds of overseas bases that require continuous political coordination with host governments,” Colgan said. “Climate-related environmental hazards could represent a new kind of tension within international political alliances. The U.S. Department of Defense would be wise to get out ahead of this issue.”

Waters off the coast of Baffin Island, Canada, near Greenland. Pixabay

Trying to find a solution for the Project Iceworm mess likely will ensnare the United States and Denmark — the two countries that signed the original treaty establishing the base — Greenland, now a semi-sovereign territory of Denmark, and Canada, whose waters could become contaminated. Ultimately, there will be cleanup costs to pay, and possibly compensation for locals affected by the pollution.

There already have been reverberations in Greenland and Denmark over this. When Greenland’s former foreign minister took an aggressive stance on the issue, demanding that either Denmark or the United States pay to clean it up, he lost his job, Colgan said.

“He actually accused the Danish foreign minister of lying over the issue, a pretty bold move, considering that Denmark still heavily subsidizes the Greenlandic government,” Colgan said. “That seems to be the reason that Greenland’s Prime Minister fired him — though in politics you never know what else was going on behind the scenes.”

Greenland’s ice sheet from 40,000 feet. NASA

In 1951, at the time the countries signed the Defense of Greenland Agreement, which established the bases, Denmark “had a nominally nuclear-free foreign policy,” the study said. This is important because the treaty allowed the United States to remove property from the bases or dispose of it in Greenland after consultation with Danish authorities.

Denmark could argue that it wasn’t fully consulted regarding the decommissioning of certain abandoned military sites, thus any abandoned waste there remains a U.S. responsibility. Moreover, Denmark never was approached officially with a plan to deploy nuclear missiles to Greenland, according to the study. In the absence of climate change, ice almost certainly would have preserved this secret for all time.

“When Camp Century and the other bases associated with Project Iceworm were built in the 1950s and abandoned in the 1960s, no one was even thinking seriously about global climate change,” Colgan said. “The idea that the Army could just leave the abandoned waste in Greenland, to be buried in snow forever, didn’t seem crazy. No one at the time anticipated the enormous experiment we are now running on our planet.”

Marlene Cimons writes for Nexus Media, a syndicated newswire covering climate, energy, policy, art and culture.

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Black Truffles Imperiled By Climate Change

A black truffle Glen MacLarty

Scientist Paul Thomas won’t forget the first time he ripped into a package of truffles he ordered from France after his own attempts to forage for this delicacy in the UK had failed. “Once I opened the packet, the aroma filled my house,” Thomas said. “They flavored everything in our fridge. I was hooked.” Thomas can’t get enough of the ugly but intensively flavorful fungi. He cultivates them. He cooks with them. He even helps organize Napa Valley’s yearly truffle festival. Thomas, an academic in the department of natural sciences at the University of Stirling, has been studying truffles since the early 2000s. Much to his horror, his most recent research suggests that this prized gourmet treat — specifically Tuber melanosporum, a species of black truffle — may vanish from southern Europe by the end of this century. The reason — as is the case with many foods today — is climate change. Heatwaves, drought, forest fires, pests and diseases threaten to eradicate truffles. For those who have never experienced the exquisite pleasure of tasting one, 18th century French gourmet Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin described the truffle as “the diamond of the kitchen” — perhaps because of both its flavor and its cost. The threatened species of black truffle typically sells for around $600 for a pound, according to the study.

Tuber melanosporum, a species of black truffle. Michel Royon

“Yes, expensive but worth it,” said former Washington, D.C. chef Colin Potts. “Their aroma and flavor of earthiness can’t be matched by any other ingredient.” A world without truffles, Potts said, “would be a culinary disaster — we would lose one of the greatest food experiences.”

Study co-author Ulf Büntgen of Cambridge University, who previously found that drought can severely hamper truffle growth, joined with Thomas to forecast the effects of climate change. Like droughts, heatwaves can be fatal for truffles, “and the duration, frequency and intensity of such events are increasing due to climate change,” Thomas said.

“In this paper we primarily focus on summer temperatures and precipitation and show that because of increases in the former and decreases in the latter, truffle production will decline,” Thomas said. “The truffles are initiated in late winter and slowly grow over the summer months before maturing in winter. Consequently, drought over the summer months hampers truffle development.” Their findings were published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

A sliced black truffle. Daieuxetdailleurs

Researchers gathered data on more than three decades of truffle production in Italy, France and Spain, and compared it with data on temperature and precipitation to predict the future impact of climate change. “The results were extremely surprising in their severity and speed of impact,” Thomas said. “We have cultivation sites in Spain and France, and we now know that these will have a difficult future.” Climate change could wreak havoc on black truffles grown in the Périgord region of France, for example, which are particularly sensitive to heat and drought in late spring and summer.

Thomas said there likely still may be areas where the weather remains favorable enough to grow black truffles. Furthermore, “some of the impacts of climate change can be counteracted by irrigation, but unfortunately the models also show that there will be a lot less water available… so this is very unlikely to be able to save the industry.” And it’s not only black truffles that are threatened by climate change. The researchers are now looking at summer truffles “and early indications show that they are also surprisingly sensitive to changes in moisture and temperature,” Thomas said,

For many years, truffle hunters used pigs and wild boar to sniff out the rare and expensive delicacy, which grow underground in forests. Today, however, more than 90 percent of truffles that originate in France are cultivated, according to Thomas, and they are harvested by trained dogs rather than wild boar. “This method started in the 70s,” Thomas said. “Truffle production in Europe was declining due to changing land use and loss of wild habitat, and cultivation managed to stem this decline.”

A truffle pig at work. Robert Vayssié

However, truffles still are quite expensive because they are so rare. Every year, French growers plant 400,000 truffle trees — trees inoculated with the truffle fungus, “but this has only been enough to keep their truffle production relatively static,” Thomas said. “The supply-demand price response of truffles is evident in unusually dry and warm years in Europe, when production suffers and consequently prices rise quite dramatically. For example in 2004, the prices paid for black truffles doubled because there were such low levels of production.”

Because truffles now can be cultivated, growers in Australia, New Zealand, South America, South Africa and the United States have gotten into the business. “USA production is still quite small, but this is forecast to increase as more plantations are established,” said Thomas, who also serves as chief scientist for the American Truffle Company. For now, growers in Italy, France and Spain produce around 95 percent of the world’s supply, he said, which amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars of economic activity.

Truffles don’t just generate income. They are also a rich source of cultural inspiration. There are truffle museums, truffle markets, and societies and rituals that evolve around truffles, for example, the France-based Confrérie de la Truffe Noire — Brotherhood of the Truffle — and the Richerenches Mass, a service honoring Saint Anthony, the patron saint of truffle farmers, Thomas said. The fungi hold a special place for both growers and gourmets.

“Truffles elevate dishes to levels of perfection,” Potts said. “I actually salivate when I think about them.”

Marlene Cimons writes for Nexus Media, a syndicated newswire covering climate, energy, policy, art and culture.

Climate Change Battle Must Include Environmental Justice

Climate Change Battle Must Include Environmental Justice

US Senator Ed Markey (Hon.’04) (D-Mass.) at the symposium Sustainability, Health Equity, and Antiracism in the 21st Century, presented by BU’s Center for Antiracist Research, with Katharine Lusk (left), BU Initiative on Cities codirector, and Thea James, a BU Aram V. Chobanian & Edward Avedisian School of Medicine associate professor of emergency medicine.

Climate Justice

Climate Change Battle Must Include Environmental Justice Senator Ed Markey (Hon.’04) touts $60B in government funding at BU Center for Antiracist Research Symposium

Environmental justice must be central to our efforts to fight climate change, US Senator Ed Markey (Hon.’04) (D-Mass.) and Ibram Kendi told a BU Center for Antiracist Research symposium on Friday.

“You can’t be an antiracist, you can’t even understand what it means to be antiracist, if you are not also fighting against climate change,” Kendi, the center’s founding director, said at the Sustainability, Health Equity, and Antiracism in the 21st Century event. “They are interrelated.

“There has been a tremendous reception to the idea” that climate scientists and antiracists must be organizing “hand-in-hand,” he said.

People of color, indigenous people, the poor, and residents of the global south have long borne a disproportionate share of pollution, resource depletion, and environmental degradation, panelists told an audience of more than 150 at the George Sherman Union Metcalf Hall and nearly 450 watching remotely. Those communities have paid the economic and health costs of problems ranging from urban heat islands and toxic industrial neighborhoods to rainforest destruction and strip mining. They have been exploited for their natural resources and available labor while reaping few of the benefits. Now they are suffering disproportionately from climate change effects, such as flooding and drought. Addressing these disparities is essential to winning the larger battle.

“That’s what it’s about—are we going to save ourselves?” asked Kendi, BU’s Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities and a College of Arts & Sciences history professor.

Markey arrived as the bearer of good news: some $60 billion of the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act is dedicated to clean energy, antipollution, and sustainability efforts targeted to marginalized communities. Moderator Katharine Lusk, BU Initiative on Cities codirector, called it “the greatest investment in environmental justice certainly in my lifetime.”

“It didn’t happen by accident or easily. It took a movement,” Markey said, crediting the momentum from the Green New Deal plan he developed with US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (CAS’11) (D-N.Y.).

The Inflation Reduction Act will fund tax credits for clean energy and electric cars, new projects to expand sustainable energy sources and remove carbon from the atmosphere, and much more.

“You can’t be antiracist…if you are not fighting against climate change,” said Ibram Kendi, BU Center for Antiracist Research founding director, during one of the symposium’s panels. At right: Tamarra James-Todd (SPH’02), a Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health associate professor.

It also includes money to fund the aims of the Environmental Justice Mapping Bill previously introduced by Markey and US Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) for data collection on disproportionate environmental and climate harms. Their goal is to collect and use that data so at least 40 percent of investments for a clean and climate-safe future go to communities harmed by environmental injustice.

Lusk: “We have learned that the quality of air a person breathes, the water they drink, the soil they plant in, the temperature they experience throughout the day, and the environmental risks and extremes to which they are exposed—that in America these are associated with race, ethnicity, and income.”

Markey and others said the $60 billion is only the start and that achieving climate justice will require a committed, wide-ranging, and fundamental effort. But at the symposium, there was a sense of opportunity after many years of frustration.

“This is a transformational moment—if we make it become that,” said symposium speaker Mustafa Santiago Ali, executive vice president of the National Wildlife Federation.

Panels on “Moving from Denialism to Climate Justice and Antiracism” and “Collaborative Approaches for Sustainability and Health Equity” highlighted the need for new and systemic solutions. The event was sponsored by Boston-based pharmaceutical company Vertex.

The increasing activism of young people gave hope to some panelists. “They’re on fire about this issue of climate change, and specifically, climate justice,” said Tamarra James-Todd (SPH’02), a Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health associate professor.

The panel “Indigenous Communities, Authentic Academic-Community Partnerships, and Environmental Justice” focused on the specific case of Native American communities, which have historically been victimized by land loss, forced assimilation, and outright genocide, as well as more recent problems like high rates of asthma and lead poisoning. 

“Indigenous communities have been on the front lines of the environmental crisis,” said Rosalyn LaPier, a University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign professor of history and an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Tribe of Montana and Métis.

Indigenous peoples need a seat at the table in discussions of climate response and a leadership role in addressing those problems in their communities, panelists said. The Inflation Reduction Act includes allocations for programs in those communities.

The symposium was chaired by Monica Wang, chair of narrative at the BU Center for Antiracist Research and an associate professor of community health sciences at the School of Public Health. Panelists agreed that the people affected by environmental injustice must be part of the solution, because their lived experience and on-the-ground expertise will make them invaluable to solutions. Outsiders need to listen to them.

“Is my job as a scholar, as a scientist, to fix or to be of service?” Kendi asked. “When I enter into the community, am I there to learn or to teach?”

Climate Change Skepticism May Hinge On Personal Experience

Climate Change Skepticism May Hinge on Personal Experience Scientists show that local high and low temperatures can affect belief in global warming

In 2014, an influx of freezing air from the North Pole’s polar vortex dropped temperatures to record lows across the United States, and even caused snow and freezing rain to fall in usually balmy southern states. Extreme weather events like this can stick in people’s minds, and record lows can even affect their belief in global warming. Photo by Vernon Doucette

In early 2014, freezing air from the polar vortex at the North Pole swept into the United States. The resulting record cold temperatures and snowfall grounded planes, knocked out power, and caused unusual weather across the country. Even states with normally balmy weather, like Georgia and Louisiana, saw freezing rain and declared states of emergency to get through the storms.

But the weather doesn’t have to be that extreme to leave a mark. In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in December 2023, scientists have found that experiencing record high or low temperatures affects people’s stated belief in climate change. The study was funded by the Robertson Foundation and the British Academy.

Robert Kaufmann, Boston University professor of Earth and environment, is lead author of the study. The research began when he and PhD candidate Xiaojing Tang (GRS’12,’17) wanted to develop a new measure of local climate change based on record high and low temperatures in the US. This index, called TMax, rises as the number of recent record high temperatures increases relative to the number of recent record low temperatures. After Tang calculated TMax using data from weather stations across the United States, he presented a map to Kaufmann, who was surprised to see a pattern.

The climate picture is complicated because the US is both warming and cooling. If climate in the country remained stable, only about 5 percent of weather stations would, simply by chance, show local warming or cooling. Instead, Kaufmann and his team saw that nearly 50 percent of weather stations had high values for TMax, indicating local warming over time. Unexpectedly, about 10 percent of weather stations showed local cooling, with more frequent recent record cold temperatures. Looking at the map, warming areas are located at the coasts, cooling areas in the middle of the country, near the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.

When Kaufmann and his collaborators compared the map of TMax directly to Howe’s, they found a correlation: in counties where recent weather was dominated by record low temperatures, a smaller percentage of people were likely to agree that global warming was happening.

Why might this be? Study coauthor Jacqueline Liederman, BU professor of psychological and brain sciences and director of the University’s Cognitive Neurophysiology Lab, believes it’s because humans are prone to learn from their own experiences. What they hear from leading scientists doesn’t dissuade them from what they see for themselves. “We know people have certain biases,” says Liederman. One of these biases is something called “recency weighting,” the tendency for people to assign more value to events that have happened recently, even if they don’t fit a long pattern over time. This was especially true for counties that experienced recent low temperatures. Even if the data showed that record high temperatures were more recent over the past 30 to 50 years, people in counties where there had been many record lows since 2005 were more skeptical of global warming.

Liederman explains that the research also reflected an effect called “confirmation bias.” Essentially, it isn’t easy for anyone to accept information that goes against entrenched beliefs, so conflicting evidence is ignored. The effect of confirmation bias was one-sided in the study, found only in areas where there were recent cold temperatures. If you are more likely to trust your personal experience, and it’s been cold recently, you can discount a rogue record high temperature as just a hot day, rather than evidence of global warming.

Areas with more record low temperatures tended to be in traditionally conservative areas of the country, counties where belief in global warming was already low. Climate change is a politically charged topic in the United States and stark divisions exist along party lines regarding how serious the problem is and what the consequences will be, according to the Pew Research Center. But Kaufmann’s study found that local climate affected people’s willingness to believe in global warming beyond what party affiliation would suggest.

Kaufmann’s group is planning a future project to better determine whether political allegiances affect how people learn from experience. In the meantime, he hopes that what he and his colleagues have learned from this study will help change the way that scientists communicate with the public about climate change. “I think climate scientists have to step back and rethink…and use very different sorts of evidence to convince people that climate change is real,” he says.

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Fake Trees Could Help Us Fight Climate Change

A leaf Pexels

Plants are humanity’s greatest ally in the fight against climate change. They soak up carbon dioxide and turn it into leaves and branches. The more trees humans plant, the less heat-trapping carbon pollution in the air. Unfortunately, plants require a lot of water and land, so much that humans might need to find a new ally to help draw down all that carbon.

New research from a team of German scientists suggests that artificial photosynthesis could help. Scientists are urging the world to invest in the technology, which remains too costly to be practical.

Artificial photosynthesis imitates the process that fuels plants naturally. Like the real thing, the technology uses carbon dioxide and water as food, and sunlight as an energy source. But rather than turn that carbon dioxide and water into leaves and branches, it produces carbon-rich products, such as alcohol. The process uses a special kind of solar cell that absorbs sunlight and conveys electricity to a pool of carbon dioxide dissolved in water. Catalysts spur a chemical transformation that yields oxygen and a carbon-based byproduct.

Pollution Pexels

“The oxygen is then released into the air, just like plants do. The other product is captured and stored, for instance in depleted oil fields,” said Matthias May, a physicist at the HZB Institute for Solar Fuels in Berlin, and a co-author of the article, published in the journal Earth System Dynamics. Artificial photosynthesis, it turns out, is more efficient than natural photosynthesis. “The big difference is that we use artificial, inorganic materials for this, which effectively allow much higher conversion efficiencies,” he added. “This is exciting, as the high efficiency translates to a much lower land and water footprint.” Scientists say these artificial leaves could be installed in deserts, where are there are no trees or farms already capturing carbon dioxide.

“Up to now, the main focus of the artificial photosynthesis community [has been] solar fuels,” using sunlight and carbon dioxide to produce liquid fuels, May said. The problem is that when solar fuels are burned, the carbon stored within is returned to the atmosphere. May’s proposed approach, however, offers a way to store that carbon underground. So, instead of recycling heat-trapping carbon dioxide, scientists would be burying it away, cooling the planet. For now, however, carbon capture in any form remains impractical and expensive. Curbing the use of fossil fuels remains the cheapest and most effective way to curb climate change.

“Curbing of emissions will always be the cheaper and more attractive approach,” May said. “But as the development of new [carbon capture] technologies — especially to the vast scales we will probably require — takes decades, and we might already have to start implementing them as soon as 2030, we do have to discuss and evaluate the options now rather than later.” Even the more modest proposals for halting climate change call for removing 10 gigatons of carbon dioxide per year by 2050, which is approximately one quarter of all human-caused carbon pollution in 2023, May said.

Forests soak up carbon dioxide. Pexels

Achieving these goals via natural photosynthesis would be difficult given the amount of water and land required. Artificial photosynthesis could offer a workable alternative. May said that an area roughly the size of Hawaii covered in artificial leaves could capture as much carbon dioxide as an area the size of Europe covered in the most carbon-hungry plants.

The technological challenge is to develop cheap, efficient catalysts and durable solar cells. “This will require a long-lasting, worldwide research effort, probably similar to fusion energy, which does, however, not guarantee success in due time,” he said. Countries would also need to find a way to pay for it.

Artificial photosynthesis is but one of many possibilities, May said. “For now, it is difficult to say which technology will be the most feasible,” May said. But, although artificial photosynthesis could be among the most expensive, “the potential of the technology is huge,” May said.

Marlene Cimons writes for Nexus Media, a syndicated newswire covering climate, energy, policy, art and culture.

Kids Skipping School To Protest Climate Change Isn’t Just Reasonable—It’s Logical

A worldwide wave of school climate strikes, begun by the remarkable Greta Thunberg, has reached the UK. Some critics claim these activist-pupils are simply playing truant, but I disagree. Speaking as both a climate campaigner and an academic philosopher, I believe school walkouts are morally and politically justifiable.

Philosophy can help us tackle the question of whether direct action is warranted via the theory of civil disobedience. This states that, in a democratic society, one is justified in disobeying the law only when other alternatives have been exhausted, and the injustice being protested against is grave.

In the case of the climate school strikes, it is without question that the injustice—the threat—is grave. There is none graver facing us.

It appears reasonable to claim furthermore that other alternatives have indeed been exhausted. After all, people have been trying to wake governments up to the climate threat for decades now, and we are still as a society way off the pace set out even by a conservative organization such as the IPCC.

But if that claim was strongly contested, and it was suggested that climate activism should continue to focus on conventional electoral politics, then attention might revert to the assumed premise that society is democratic. Do people in Britain and elsewhere really live in “democracies,” given (for instance) the vastly greater power of the rich, and of owners of media, to influence elections, compared to everyone else?

A school strike in Melbourne, Australia. Julian Meehan / School Strike, CC BY-SA

I don’t want to adjudicate whether we really live in a democracy. But what of course makes this a particularly salient question for school strikes is the simple fact that in any case children have no voice in this democratic system. And yet the climate crisis and the perhaps equally catastrophic biodiversity crisis will affect children much more than adults.

Our “democratic” system seems to have a built in present-centricness, and a weakness in relation to issues of long-term significance, that seriously undermines its claims to democratic legitimacy. Thus philosophers have sometimes argued, beginning with Edmund Burke in the 18th century, that to make the system truly democratic we would need to somehow include—and give real power to—the voices of the past and the future in that system. Most especially, for they are at risk of suffering the worst: the voices of children and indeed of future generations.

So, a forceful argument could be made that it must be legitimate for children to take part in climate actions, for they do not even have recourse to the democratic channels (such as they are) that adults take for granted. This is especially true once we add that it seems reasonable for children to object to schooling that may well be rendered irrelevant by a climate-induced catastrophe. For example, much of the way that economics, business studies and IT are taught presupposes a world that will probably soon cease to exist.

Adults have failed

If you are convinced by this, then all well and good. However, at this point, I want to pull the rug slightly from under the argument that I’ve made so far. I put it to you that, if you are an adult, as I am, then your view in any case is somewhat beside the point.

Let down by adults? Young protesters at the recent UN climate talks in Poland. Andrzej Grygiel / EPA

For the brutal fact is that, try hard though some of us have done, we adults have categorically failed our children. This is a grievous wrong, perhaps the worst thing that mammals, primates, such as ourselves, can do: to have let down those who we claim to love more than life itself. We have set our children on a path to a “future” in which society as we know it may have collapsed. And even if we accomplish an unprecedented societal transformation over the next decade, the massive time-lags built into the climate system mean things will still get worse for a long time to come.

And so on this occasion we adults ought to humbly realize that it is no longer for us to tell our children what to do. We ought rather to take up the role of supporting them in their uprising, asking how we can help them in their struggle for survival. They are inspiring us, now.

The ultimate reason why we should support these school strikes, as I and hundreds of other UK academics have just declared we will do, is that, through our inaction that has led the world they will inherit to this pretty pass, we adults have forfeited the moral right to do anything else.

Rupert Read is a Reader in Philosophy at the University of East Anglia. This article was originally featured on The Conversation.

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