A few Maltese pupils joined protesters of school age from across the world to protest inaction in fighting climate change. The whole point of the protest is to tell people in power they must get off their butts and somehow halt the inexorable dive towards catastrophe that we seem so collectively keen to indulge in.
Evarist Bartolo rushed to the front of the crowd today. He was protesting against whom exactly? I understand pupils reminding people in power they ought to act. But Evarist Bartolo is people in power. Who is he talking to from that front row seat at the protest?
Even if he were sympathetic to the cause of the protest, he should have stayed away. Now his staff will scramble to find other mediocre camera-chasing politicians from the rest of the world who stood in front lines in similar protests elsewhere happening today in some other city. I have tried to find some but though I did not manage, I expect the world is a big place and Bartolo is likely to find fellow media-hungry idiots in politics somewhere else they could use to legitimise their own behaviour.
That fact is when politicians hog the limelight of even the most timid civil society initiative they are not lending it its support, they are rather neutralising its impact. They seek to diffuse entirely legitimate anger by proclaiming their sympathy with it, thereby suppressing the voices that wish to speak out in criticism of them.
This happens all the time. But it is truly revolting when political heavies like Evarist Bartolo (and the government and the party he represents) cannot even tolerate the sound of the independent voice of a few hundred pupils and students calling for action against climate change.
The demands of the climate strike action from around the world include calls for governments to declare a “climate emergency”, to inform the public about the seriousness of the situation and to change the national curriculum to include “the ecological crisis”.
Evarist Bartolo does not need to march in the streets to call for these changes. He can bloody well do them himself and he should be doing them without the childish attempt to take the wind out of the sails of children and teenagers by making it look like the protest was his idea.
Those few students who marched today already had a hard time to combat the pathological apathy or even the inexplicable fear of all their school mates mocking them for even bothering. Some of them still have to have a discussion at school or at home about “wasting time” because of course saving the planet for future generations is a distraction from trigonometry.
Then they had to contend with politely making way for a government grandee whose indifference to climate change is the cause of their protest in the first place. Our students are, perhaps understandably given the social context in which they grow, too timid to confront Evarist Bartolo to ask him what he has been doing all this time to save their world.
Never mind asking him if he walks rather than allow himself to be driven, or at least cycle or use the bus, or if he got his office to measure its carbon footprint and how successful he’s been in reducing it year on year.
They could have asked him how many times he’s actually thought of climate change in all the years he has been people of influence in between watching a film by Al Gore in his air-conditioned living room and reading about today’s protest and thinking it was time for another good photo-op.
But all they would have got in response is that blank smile of the politician who really has no idea what they’re meant to do.