Hope Dies Last

Hope Dies Last is a documentary profiling young climate change activists in Poland. It shows the firece drive and motivation they share, a single purpose no less important than the survival of their species.

When folk ask why weans these days are all cracking up, show them this film. The activists range from 16 to 20 and have all been politically active for years. They’ve sacrificed their childhood to bring the call that we as a society desperately need to change our self-destructive path.

They have educated themselves thoroughly in the depressing statistics that so many skim over, and have a clear vision of just how little time is left before our climate and our world changes forever. Then all the hand-wringing and composting in the world won’t do a damned thing. They feel like a generation of people who can see clearly the cliff we are all headed for, while those driving us towards the edge are blindfolded. No wonder they are cracking up.

They’d all love nothing more than to be kids, to have someone responsible worry about this for them, but that’s not happening. They don’t simply need to protest once, but to constantly keep protesting to keep the issue talked out. Without their demonstrations and strikes, as a topic it simply fades from political discussion.

And it’s not as if, because they are consumed with this life-or-death crusade, they get any kind of break on all the rest of the stress of this time of life. They still have exams, they still have to get into uni, they still have the normal ups and downs of teenage life. But on top of that you have the constant sense of panic that your time is running out.

All the activists spoke of their work in terms of a sense of duty. Duty to the planet, duty to the people, duty to the powerless who will be worst affected. But for some, it has a tangible presence, a sense of duty to their younger siblings, watching people they care about be brought into the world which only has 10 more years to halt an imminent disaster.

And on top of all that you have the pure abuse they are taking for their activism. The police, of course, are bastards, and hassle and harass them. Try to disrupt their demos and action, drum up false charges, and sic the social on their families. But go temporarily blind when these kids are themselves attacked by adults who believe climate change is a hoax. With everything I know about the world it shouldn’t surprise me, but it always does, to see grown adults attacking children. They’re kids. And the activists describe being hurled with sexist and homophobic abuse, spat on, beaten, sexually assaulted, and given death threats.

What the fuck is wrong with people?

So yeah, a lot of them report mental health issues, with anxiety being a big one. Turns out spending your entire lifetime lurching from one global crisis to the next isn’t that great for your mental health.

And of course most of this is shot across the pandemic, which is still ongoing, because hey, climate change causes global crises. And there is such a level of frustration the activists feel, that we are literally living through one of the consequences of climate change – how our food systems and environmental mismanagement have led to more and more exposure to various viruses – but no one is even talking about it or recognising it as such. That people continue to deny it, even as they’re dying of it.

The hopelessness and burnout you would not expect in activists still so young is evident. Yet they persist. Because there is only so much time left for their actions to matter. And after that, it will be too late for all of us.

With COP26 just over here in Glasgow – another talking shop full of hot air – you see how the COP24 in Poland really politicised an entire generation. Hopefully we’ll see similar effects here.

But as one activist points out, during the pandemic, people literally sat in their house doing nothing and emissions only dropped by 8%. The atomisation of this problem down to the level of personal responsibility completely ignores the reality of these decisions being in the hands of the few who are powerful. We must make ourselves unignorable.

Hope Dies Last is a film in which disappointment with the present is balanced with the hope inspired by this generation. That they continue to do all that they can, with everything they are facing, really makes you question if you are doing all you can too. The kids are my heroes.