Andrea Rondeau column: ‘Sit down and shut up’ attitude to students on climate change disturbing

It’s not too often that I’m taken aback by the response to a particular story in the paper.

But last week I was unpleasantly surprised by some of the response to the Citizen’s coverage of the huge climate change action walkout by Cowichan students on May 17. Or, it would be more accurate to say, the response to the event itself.

I expected the usual deniers of human-caused climate change to come out of the woodwork, and there were a few of those. And while it’s worrying that there are still people determined to keep their heads well and truly entrenched in the sand in the face of the best available scientific evidence to the contrary, it wasn’t surprising. People don’t want to, and are afraid of having to change. They will twist themselves into amazing pretzels to avoid it. And there are those out there with vested interests who are more than happy to feed the illusion. But I digress.

What was surprising and profoundly disturbing to me were the people who basically said the young people should sit down and shut up.

Their arguments seemed to be based almost entirely on the age of the organizers and participants. The attitudes ranged from consdescendingly dismissive — the equivalent of a denigrating pat on the head — to affronted anger that young people should feel they have the right to have an opinion at their age, and exercise their voices about it.

This kind of ageism is incredibly destructive to the community, and our society as a whole. No wonder young people don’t feel like they are being listened to. Sure, young people may not have the experience and wisdom of someone older (though wisdom doesn’t always come with age), but that doesn’t mean their opinions aren’t valid and worth considering. If you disagree from the standpoint of greater experience, consider that engaging in a conversation would be so much more productive than just turning your back.

Young people can have great ideas, the energy to fight for them and carry them out, and the passion to do so. Trying to douse that passion diminishes our society and if successful, robs us of a better possible future.

Nobody knows everything, no matter how old they are. Dismissing the idea that young people might have something new and valuable to add to the conversation is just sad. It seems to come from a place of someone who believes they know how things are, and that they can never be changed for the better. Consider that we would have none of the good advancements we have now if people in the past had bought into that mindset. It’s certainly something none of us can afford to believe now with the problems we face, like runaway climate change.

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