Wake Up, Your House Is on Fire | Sustainability

Three hundred thirty-eight days. That’s the length of time between August 2018, when we first saw the news coverage of Greta Thunberg, a young climate activist in Sweden who started striking in front of Stockholm's parliament every Friday to demand climate action from her country’s leaders, and September 20, 2019, when global Climate Strike Marches brought an estimated four million young people and their supporters onto our streets to demand meaningful action from adults on climate change.

Rebekkah Smith Adrich head shot“The itsy bitsy spider will drown if you do nothing."—Climate Strike Protest Sign, September 2019

Three hundred thirty-eight days. That’s the length of time between August 2018, when we first saw the news coverage of Greta Thunberg, a young climate activist in Sweden who started striking in front of Stockholm's parliament every Friday to demand climate action from her country’s leaders, and September 20, 2019, when global Climate Strike Marches brought an estimated four million young people and their supporters onto our streets to demand meaningful action from adults on climate change.

Back in 2017 LJ’s Rebecca T. Miller wrote an editorial for School Library Journal entitled “Kids, the Ultimate Stakeholders.” In it, she and I considered the potential to use the platform of libraries to inspire kids to activate, and confront the multitude of issues that need to be tackled to co-create a more sustainable world—side-by-side with adults. Little did we know the children would decide that we adults weren’t moving fast enough, grab the reins, and drag us forward.

While Thunberg first received attention for her act of civil disobedi­ence, it has been her words that have catalyzed a movement among the world’s kids, particularly those spoken at the 2019 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “I want you to act as you would in a crisis,” she said. “I want you to act as if our house is on fire, because it is.”

These words have inspired millions of children to recognize that they see the world clearly and can act to make things better. They are done waiting for us. They understand they have power, influence, and a voice—and they are organizing.

 

OUR LEGACY

How will these young people view leaders and organizations that do not act quickly in the face of climate change when they become voters?

I’ve been working steadily and systemically, but with urgency, for years to help the library profession evolve its thinking to lead on the topic of sustainability. I don’t know how to be more direct than to tell you, we need to do more; we need to do it visibly and with clarity of purpose.

What will you say you did to aid these young visionaries? Now is the time to decide who you are and what you believe in. From wherever you sit in your library’s organization you have the power to be their ally.

  • Educate yourself. Become eco-literate.
  • Understand that yesterday’s rules will not work in the world of tomorrow.
  • Listen to our young people. Many of them have a vision for the future that you can help bring to life.
  • Do what library people do best with purpose: Help them connect with the world around them, interpret what they are learning, and understand it more deeply.
  • Empower them to have a voice and to act.

In New York we are scaling up efforts for libraries to take the lead in helping more people activate in our communities. This October, the New York Library Association piloted a new statewide program through the Sustainable Thinking & Action Round Table (START) called The Great Give Back (thegreatgiveback.org). This program got its start thanks to the vision, energy, and enthusiasm of Derek Ivie, youth services coordinator at the Suffolk Cooperative Library System. The mission of The Great Give Back is to provide a day for the patrons of the public libraries of New York State to participate in meaningful, service-oriented experiences in their community. More than 160 libraries signed up for the pilot year. Planned projects include everything from park cleanups and food drives to pet adoption events and a “Students Demand Action” bake sale.

While this is a small start to the large-scale action necessary to truly adapt in the face of what is to come, I think of it as practice for the herculean efforts ahead of us.

In short, it’s doing something. You should, too. Read my past columns for more ideas for how to get started; it’s time to be a part of what comes next in a positive, deliberate way. It’s going to take all of us—of all ages—to change a broken system to create a hopeful future.

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