Eat the rich’ was one of the more striking home-made posters on the ‘Fridays for the Future Scotland’ Climate Strike March in Glasgow on Friday. But as tens of thousands of young people, from toddlers to teenagers, and their parents and grandparents, and plenty of others as well,  marched from Kelvingrove Park to George Square, there were many posters, signs and symbols conveying the same message, some of them much less politely. 

Perhaps they had been reading the recent report from two respected European environmental agencies, which have calculated that the carbon emissions of the rich of the world put the Paris climate goal of limiting global warming to 1.5C at grave risk. To reach these goals, every person on earth needs to reduce their CO2 emissions, to an average of 2.3 tons annually, half of what it is today. This will not be a problem for the world’s poorest 50%, whose emissions are already well below the target. It will be a big problem for the richest 10%,  currently on around 20 tons a year (and that 10% includes most people who earn around £40k or more). An increasing threat to life on earth are the global 1%, those who income is around £130k or more, and whose CO2 emissions are dangerously off the scale.  But the worst criminals (and I use the word advisedly), are those whose CO2 emissions can reach up to 1000 tonnes, and whose ludicrous and vulgar lifestyles are literally killing people. 

Of course, these are averages across huge population numbers, and there will be huge variation at the individual level within them. Looking at our carbon emissions like this is only another way of indicating what so many young people, and certainly those attending the Friday for the Future Climate Strike already know, that the scales are weighted against the poorest and the youngest, and that vast wealth inequality has been growing incrementally over the last thirty or forty years. They already know that their future is being squandered by the profligacy of those whose authority is not matched by their responsibility, and that decent jobs, secure and affordable homes and clean air are less rather than more available to them than they were to their parents. They know that the fossil fuels need to stay in the ground. 

One of our Iona Community new members took her primary-school age children on the march. They are not yet at an age to understand the workings of our global financial systems, but they will remember marching, and why they marched, and as they grow, they will learn in their schools and from their peers about global warming. It’s not surprising that UK government ministers do not approve of schoolchildren missing lessons to attend the Climate Strike; it is not in their interest to see a generation of children grow up to ask difficult questions about why rich people do not pay more tax, or why the Chancellor cut fuel duty on short-haul flights? 

As well as mutual accountability for our use of money and time, Iona Community members also account for their carbon use. None of us is anywhere near 2.3 tonnes annually! With a lot of hard work, some of us might get near the 4.8 tonnes of the middle 40% of global population (interestingly, the income group that is doing the most to reduce their emissions.)  

But we all recognise that this is not just a matter of individual morality and action. With the best will in the world, we need governments to take action; in housing insulation, just transition to clean energy and decent jobs, more affordable public transport, and most of all, in making climate finance available for developing countries cope with climate emergencies and transition their own economies to clean energy. We owe it to them; we are living off their backs, and young people know this. In this regard, when Greta addressed the young climate strikers, and said ‘It is not a secret that COP26 is a failure’, she was absolutely correct. 

In other news, the UK government did one of their regular U-turns, when it transpired that the British public did not take kindly to efforts to change the rules on paid lobbying by MPs, in order to save one of the Prime Minister’s pals from sanctions.  

And tens of thousands were praying for good weather for the People’s March for Global Justice the next day. 

 – Kathy Galloway

Kathy Galloway is a writer, activist and practical theologian. She has worked for the Iona Community, Christian Aid and Church Action on Poverty. She lives in Glasgow, Scotland.

photo © William Gibson

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