Shamim Malekmian meets the rebels behind Elders for the Earth, who are supporting the teenage climate strikers’ campaign for greener policies.
Every Friday morning, Eileen Lynch, Frank Dorr, Maureen Lancaster, and Juri Hertel join Cork’s school strike for climate, although decades have passed since their school years.
The rebellious nature of their presence, outside Cork City Council, often remains unnoticed: a group of older men and women standing near a cohort of boisterous, teenage climate strikers.
To the young protestors, however, the weekly strikes are unimaginable without Elders for Earth, a group Lynch, Dorr, Lancaster and Hertel are a part of.
Dorr, 80, and Lynch, 79, are a genial couple anxious about the uncertain future of their grandchildren.
They have recently founded Elders for Earth to support Irish youth’s climate revolt.
The couple often brings food and refreshments to the striking youngsters, helping the green youth uprising with some grandparental care.
Alongside his wife, Dorr used to be a social worker and therapist at the Cork-based non-for-profit Social and Health Education Project (Shep).
At Shep, the couple steadfastly defended the rights of underprivileged individuals to live on their own terms.
“It was always an effort to keep things open for those who are most disadvantaged,” Dorr says.
Dorr and his wife always had a potent disdain for inequality, and Elders for Earth was an opportunity to focus on fighting a more “structured injustice” — climate change.
The right to a steady climate has been described as the constitutional dilemma of the 21st century, with environmental activists everywhere fighting for its official recognition.
In Ireland, a Cork-based environmental group, Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE), is challenging the State in the High Court over its climate inaction.
Dorr, who speaks with gentle determination, admits that they weren’t aware of the scope of the climate problem.
“We had some awareness of climate issues, but I’m ashamed to say not enough awareness,” he says.
By attending various lectures and discussions, the retired couple became more informed about the imminent threat of climate change.
Soon they founded Elders for Earth and their climate vigils outside the Council began.
“We admire what the young people are doing. We worry a lot about young people,” Dorr says.
The student climate revolt is inspired by pioneering, teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg.
Thunberg refused to attend school on Fridays and sat in protest outside the Swedish Parliament instead, highlighting the futility of attending class in the presence of the looming menace of climate change.
Thunberg’s act of civil disobedience has influenced many children worldwide to do the same.
Dorr and Lynch, who have two grandchildren, say they feel guilty about the precarious state of the planet, reasoning that they belong to “the generation that caused the problem”.
“I say [most of] the additional CO2 in the atmosphere was released since World War II,” Dorr says.
Lynch, a petite woman with a strong, yet quiet sense of ambition to fight for change, used to be a midwife before moving on to work as a psychotherapist at Shep.
As a midwife, she delivered numerous babies: a profession which instilled a sense of constant awareness about the fragility of life in her.
“I think about those babies and the joy those mothers had and their absolute conviction that their child would have a future,” she says.
Lynch then breaks down in tears, Dorr and Lancaster try to comfort her; the atmosphere becomes funereal with the acute sense of discomfort felt when imagining a loved one’s death.
By the time Lancaster, an erudite Irish-American woman with frizzy, white hair, starts speaking, her eyes are also brimming with tears.
Both women apologise, reasoning that they feel an upwelling of sadness when talking about children and climate change.
Lancaster, 69, grew up in Colorado under the influence of an Irish mother who, at 19, joined the British Army out of a powerful contempt for Hitler.
“She was quite a woman, and she remained an activist her entire life,” she says.
Lancaster doesn’t have children of her own, but as a school teacher, she has helped educate many.
“I think of all my students, they’re my children,” she says.
The senior green activist heard about the school strike in the news and decided to participate.
Students in Cork have been striking outside the Council for over 24 weeks now.
Hertel, 58, is the youngest member of Elders for Earth, a polite man with a quiet smile and long, salt-and-pepper hair pulled back in a bun.
He strongly identifies with climate strikers, revealing that he grew up with similar nightmares as the young climate rebels.
“I was born in Berlin. I grew up during the Cold War.
“My parents decided to move me out of town because we were afraid that someone would drop an atom bomb on [Berlin],” he says.
“It was a common fear at the time.”
No one dropped an atom bomb on Berlin, but the fear stuck with Hertel.
Five decades later, it prods him out of sleep early on Fridays and brings him in front of the City Hall.
There he stands, for six hours, beside a group of teenage activists.
One moment they could be discussing the latest Avengers movie, the next they could be sombrely deliberating what it would be like if climate change destroyed the planet.
Hertel watches them with a sympathetic smile, he knows how it feels to have your young, carefree conversations overshadowed by a human-made threat.
For more information on the group see www.eldersforearth.ie.