CHILDHOOD should be a largely joyful experience. It is the job of parents, of society as a whole, that children are largely protected from the ills of the world and are able to grow and develop in a calm and joyful environment.

Now, of course, there comes a time when they need to start a journey of discovery about the way the world works, and to begin to exercise responsibility according to that understanding.

It is also important to introduce the concept of leadership to children, particularly teenagers, so that they can break cycles which need to be broken, whether they are inherited from their parents or from society as a whole.

But we, as the current generation of adults and the current generation of leaders, should not be demanding that this next generation provide the solutions to the problems that we have created.

Nowhere is this truer than in the fractious debate on the climate emergency. Greta Thunberg, when asked to provide detail about what she wanted global governments to do, said “It is nothing to do with me”.

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She is absolutely right. That we are apparently deferring to Miss Thunberg and her peers to pull the world out of the substantial hole which we have dug for it is a humiliating failure of leadership.

This leadership failure is leading to some deeply distressing evidence of anxiety amongst young people – exactly the opposite of what childhood should be. Miss Thunberg famously told the 2019 UN Climate Conference, at age 16: “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood”.

I wasn’t inspired by this – I was upset. This is a young girl who, from the age of 11, stopped eating and talking due to her anxiety about global governments’ lack of action on climate change, and was diagnosed with Asperger’s, OCD and selective mutism. This is in many ways a tragic story.

I have four children aged under 11, all of whom, like their peers, are very climate aware, and I emphatically do not want climate anxiety to be in their future. Children should be interested, be learning, be cajoling adults on the climate emergency. But they do not have the answers. They are children.

The outcome of this inverted responsibility matrix is tens of thousands of children skipping school to go on climate marches because adults have spent too long doing too little.

Some of those adults look at the marches narrowly – children should be at school, they say, particularly after so much lost education time during the Covid pandemic. They are not wrong, but they are missing the much bigger picture.

The bigger picture is that we are allowing these marches, ostensibly about climate change, to be hijacked, and for our children used as part of the broader and rather sinister agenda of overthrowing capitalism.

Save for a few Communist dictators in a few poor, enslaved countries, no world leaders pretend that these issues are linked. Mainstream leaders, left and right, understand that, far from being the problem, capitalism and the technological advancement and innovation which is possible only in a market system, is our only solution.

But every time a global leader panders to this anti-capitalist narrative because they think it makes for a good photo opportunity, they send up a smoke signal that they are not actually serious about tackling the climate emergency.

This is, at its core, a problem of political short-termism. A problem of global leaders realising that their lives are easier if they sign agreements for distant years, and pay lip service to the climate emergency in order to generate good PR, than they would be if they actually did some of the heavy lifting required to “keep 1.5 alive”, as the soundbite goes.

Instead, they regard the worst impacts of climate change to be far enough away that they will be long out of politics before the proverbial really hits the fan. Leave it to the next guy, right?

This is not new, and it is not confined to climate change. We see it in this country, most obviously, in the delivery of a range of public services. For instance, speak to any politician in private and they will tell you that the current taxpayer-funded pension model is very obviously unsustainable. A growing retired population having their state and public sector occupational pensions paid for by the taxes of a reducing proportion of working-age people?

This is a square peg and a round hole. There is no other outcome than a leader, at some point in future, ripping up the system and rebuilding it largely on the basis of self-funded retirement. But none of them want that in their manifesto. So they leave it to the next guy.

The NHS provides us with another example. Politicians, north and south of the border, know that the chasm between public expectation and ability to deliver is seismic. They know that this uniquely British model is effectively already dead, and that we will continue to fall behind our European neighbours in terms of health outcomes. But none of them want that in their manifesto. So they leave it to the next guy.

Climate change has been left to the next guy time, and time, and time again. But we are coming perilously close to the point where time runs out to pass the buck.

Our current leaders are, perhaps, the first who are in the line of fire; in the line of blame. With that, horrible, agonising, impactful discussions have to be had with the electorate. Significantly higher energy prices, for years. An accelerated and expensive change to our domestic heating infrastructure. Taxes at a higher level than the majority of working people are used to, or comfortable with, for some time.

In this endeavour, Miss Thunberg has some excellent advice, when she says that we do not just need goals for 2030 or 2050 – we need goals for now. She has hit that particular nail on the head. It is far too easy for today’s adults to regard a change by 2030 or 2050 to be somebody else’s problem.

We all need to do more now. Individuals and families nudged by government policy. Companies driving innovation to protect their future, and ours. The longer the transition, the more ordered, structured and affordable it will be.

Our leaders need to help us leave our children with solutions rather than problems. So that they can enjoy simply being children, just like we did.

Andy Maciver is Director of Message Matters

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