I was barely 12 years old and living in my home country of Iran when I joined my first ever school protest.
The protest was in solidarity with the revolutionaries who were calling for democracy and an end to the authoritarian rule of the Shah but it quickly fizzled out when a military tank rolled in front of the school gate and teargas was fired inside the schoolyard.
Fortunately, no one was injured but in the course of the revolution many protestors were brutally oppressed through arrest, torture and even murder.
Almost 40 years on, I find myself urging my 16-year-old son to join his first ever school march, knowing that climate change is more of a grave cause than freedom and democracy.
Of course we are immensely lucky to live in a democratic country that allows us to exercise our right to protest but we also need to recognize that, as the philosophy professor AC Grayling puts it, “short-termism and self-interest are the endemic weaknesses of both democracies and people who live in them”.
Grayling argues that our democratic system can, at times, be inefficient to the point of ineffectiveness.
He is right of course.
Unlike tyrants, political leaders in a democracy have to consider the wishes of their constituents who often prefer to bury their heads in the sand than being overly burdened with harsh but necessary sacrifices needed to tackle climate change.
“Democracy, accordingly, is not a natural ally of the tough measures required to combat climate change”, Grayling posits.
We see this clearly playing out in our own politics today.
Our vote-chasing politicians are unlikely to implement the full recommendations of the Tax Working Group because they fear their constituents would not accept the pain of extra environmental taxes as a necessary sacrifice to meaningfully impact the most critical issue of our time.
This is not surprising of course as our entire political and economic system is designed to encourage us to compete to secure our own interests and yet climate-change requires us to cooperate at an individual and global scale.
So the challenge for my son and other students joining climate change protests around the world is how to preserve important democratic values at the same time as challenging the entire political and economic system that, due to its inherent short-termism, is threatening their future.
The Iranian revolution did not turn out for the best but it did teach me that people working together could affect major change.
I am encouraging my son to miss a day at school because learning how to goad politicians and corporations to act is a very useful education in itself and possibly the only effective method to fight the climate change.
Those who believe the school climate strike is a meaningless action that is unlikely to change anything, need to consider the number of media articles and debates the climate school strike has generated so far. This level of media coverage is exactly what we need to push this important issue to the forefront of our collective consciousness.
This is important because without a shared belief that climate change is an existential threat to us all, we won’t be able to bring about the changes necessary to combat it.