A Dream of the Future
On the 20th October, Eurochild and its members joined the Human Rights 75 Regional Dialogue for Europe and Central Asia. Saoirse Exton's, part of the UN Secretary General’s Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change, made an intervention to present youth perspectives on the future. You can read it here.
Dia dhaoibh gach duine, is mise Saoirse Exton. Hello everyone, my name is Saoirse Exton.
I have been asked here today to explain to you the perspective young people have towards our future. So, I will try as best I can to explain to you, as has been explained multiple times before in many different ways, our anger.
In a dream, young people see a world in our adulthood, in our middle to old ages. We see a world where justice is the status quo, where the earth has healed over its wounds, where wars are a thing consigned to the memories of the old, where we share with one another, where we work with one another to collectively foster the land, to train each other, to protect our home, our planet.
In Irish culture, there is a strong poetic tradition of the Aisling, which literally means dream or vision. An Aisling called the Irish people back home to defend their island against British imperialism and to protect and reinstate our lost culture and language. It is a type of dream that reminds the beholder of what they have abandoned and of what they have left behind and reminds them that they are needed at home, that their entire body must be sacrificed in the fight for justice and liberation.
Young people, I think, or at least those of us who have some ounce of hope, see our possible futures as a dream. Our world, our future, one filled with peace and justice and liberation, is as fleeting as a dream. And we are awake in a nightmare.
If I can, somehow, summarise how young people feel in five minutes, I want to highlight one thing: we are angry.
We are not unreasonable. We have watched previous generations take the planet for granted, we have watched hosts of successive governments strip away our rights and hand them over to fossil fuel companies in the name of profit. You thought we weren’t watching when you commodified the very land we stand on.
We are not naive. We know that the fight for justice will be a difficult one, we know that there are leaders and corporations out there that want us to be quiet. Many of us put our lives on the line simply to remind you of your incompetence. Those of us who live in areas sinking under the sea understand that risking our lives now is nothing compared to the risk to our lives and livelihoods in the very near future.
We will not be tokenised or sidelined. We are not your playthings, your electoral ornaments. We are your constituents, we are the people who have given you your power, we can wrestle it back just as easily.
We have been watching you and we are angry.
Countless times other young people like myself have sat in rooms just like these and told the world how we feel. We have been stoic, we have been emotional. We have protested, we have disrupted, we have been ‘reasonable’ and sat across the table from leaders.
Over the last couple of months in my role with the UN Secretary General’s Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change, I have heard the term ‘finger-pointing’ more times than at any other point in my life. I have been told that I am ‘confrontational’, that ‘finger-pointing’ is not helpful, does not encourage leaders to be on my side. As if I am lobbying for reduced taxes. As if my side is equatable to the side companies like Shell exist on. I have been told to tone down the ‘alarmism’, I have been told I’m one of the good young people because I came inside the building instead of standing outside it.
However, I see this attitude towards youth advocacy, this insistence that we be calm and collected as unhelpful and naive. When has patting leaders on their backs, complimenting them when they achieve the bare minimum, as I have been advised to do, ever worked? I find this attitude unreasonable and ill-advised. It is the attitude of a child who has yet to understand the full extent of greed – not an adult who should know better.
You thought we weren’t watching when you allowed institutions and corporations to calculate the monetary value of every life-form on this planet, to run a cost-benefit analysis and decide the short-term benefits outweighed the costs to our planet and our futures. Instead of seeing a whale for its value in its ecosystem, we watched the International Monetary Fund as it valued a singular whale at $2 million, acting as if life can be exchanged for something as arbitrary as another number with which to line your bank accounts.
We were watching. We are still watching.
And so, as young people, we exist within two realities, two very possible realities – one where we have the future we need, one where we have the future we are currently headed towards.
Young people are ready and willing to fight for our futures. Are you?
So, today, I call on you, whether you are a leader or a member of parliament, an official, a lobbyist, an advocate, to prove to us young people your competence. Prove to us that our faith in United Nations systems, in political systems, which is steadily decreasing, can be restored. Show us that you can leave the old status quo behind for our futures, for the futures of your own children. Call for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, call for a new world, a better one. Ensure the liberation of all peoples across the planet, their freedom and ability to self-determine, support the most vulnerable, like those who are suffering in Gaza from a violent onslaught.
Climate justice will not come from a continuation of business as usual. It will come from a vicious fight for the future we all deserve.
Go raibh míle maith agat as do éisteacht.