Last Monday, a small group of students joined Extinction Rebellion activists to stage a range of environmental protests, including a “die-in” in the National History Museum and the erection of temporary roadblocks around the city.
But while an Irish Times video documenting the action offered insight into the admirable solidarity of the activists involved, it could not help but also reveal the low turn-out.
It is not the intention of this piece to criticise Extinction Rebellion. The movement, seen as radical by some, is arguably a logical and fair response to the imminent reality of disastrous climate breakdown.
(Even the suggestion that we are on the “brink” of environmental catastrophe, often made by politicians intent on replacing apathy with the hope that it’s not too late to prevent its arrival, does not do justice to the reality that we are well on our way to irreversibly destroying our planet.)
But the low turnout of this week’s action suggests the urgent need for a more coherent and compelling movement that students can get behind en masse. The climate emergency has no quick fix, and sporadic – if eye-catching – action will never be enough to create the pressure needed for governments to drastically step up their efforts.
While secondary students around the country have mobilised against climate change, university students have arguably remained on the fringes. Student leaders have often attended climate protests, but it’s hard to escape the notion that they must make the environment a bigger priority – and do it now.
It’s crucial that a visible, well-organised student movement gathers around climate action. Everyone – students, their unions, and the Union of Students in Ireland – must treat this issue with the seriousness and intent it needs, and demonstrate the fighting spirit and unity that defined the Repeal movement.
And the current lack of a mass movement should not be used to justify inertia from individuals. The crisis is overwhelming and can feel insurmountable, but that is no excuse for inaction: our planet is deteriorating, and keep cups and tote bags alone won’t save it. It has been said a million times before, but there is simply not a second to lose.