Our intolerance is reaching epidemic proportions.

What does it say that we can’t — or won’t — listen to concerns, especially those raised by young leaders of the world.

Tuesday was a heart-breaking example.

When 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg addressed French lawmakers, a handful of far-right and conservative politicians boycotted her appearance and belittled the young activist, who is a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize.

“Some people have chosen not to come here today, some have chosen not to listen to us,” she said. “And that is fine. We are, after all, just children. … We become the bad guys who have to tell people these uncomfortable things because no one else wants to or dares to.”

Thunberg has become an inspiration across the planet, including here in Vermont. She inspired a global movement of young activists during the past year, after she launched a solo school strike in which she sat outside the Swedish parliament once a week to protest what she saw as inaction on climate change. Soon, other students — including several schools in Vermont — followed suit. Students around the world boycotted school in a coordinated strike, taking to the streets of major cities in a day of protest.

Thunberg is celebrated globally as the face of her generation and was at the lower house of France’s parliament at the invitation of more than 160 French lawmakers involved in a climate advocacy group.

But to those who did not want to hear her message, she was belittled, marginalized and mocked.

On Twitter, Guillaume Larrivé, who is running for leader of the conservative party Les Républicains, called on his colleagues to skip Thunberg’s remarks, saying France “needs not apocalyptic gurus, but scientific progress and political courage.”

In a separate TV interview, Larrivé said, “the public debate should not be focused on one single person, who has a symbolic strength and who also at times says a lot of nonsense. … My problem with Ms. Thunberg is that she refuses to go to school. To strike from school, from learning, from knowledge because it’s the apocalypse at our doors, I can’t approve of that.”

According to published reports, Julien Aubert, who is also running for leader of Les Républicains, tweeted: “Do not count on me to go and applaud a prophetess in shorts, Nobel prize of fear.”

Jordan Bardella, a French member of European Parliament, told French television station France 2 that he disapproved of “using children to hawk a fatalist message about the world going up in flames, and skipping school and going on strike,” calling it “a deeply defeatist approach.”

Thunberg addressed the French congress, where she implored lawmakers to recognize that “the survival of mankind is at stake and that governments are doing very little to amend the situation.”

Ironically, Thunberg was earlier feted in a different part of France, when she was awarded the “Normandy Freedom Prize.” After meeting two D-Day veterans, she said she thinks “the least we can do to honor them is to stop destroying that same world that (they) and their friends and colleagues fought so hard to save.”

In addition, with Germany set to miss its 2020 emissions reduction targets, Chancellor Angela Merkel said this week a national price on carbon dioxide will be the only way to reach targets for 2030.

Speaking at her annual mid-year news conference, Merkel pointed to Thunberg and the Fridays for Future protest movement taking place across Europe as having motivated her government to expedite decisions on tackling the climate crisis.

Also, Merkel said recent “unusual weather patterns” had spurred her government into action. Western Europe is experiencing an unprecedented heat wave this week, following a brutal heat wave on the U.S. East Coast and throughout the United States last week.

Some argue that we are at a tipping point, with young leaders like Thunberg moving us where we need to go. Previously, students couldn’t do much, but with the climate strikes, they now can. And should.

Social tipping points happen when there is between 25% and 50% agreement, a committed minority working at it. These kind of events were utterly unpredictable.

Thunberg and other young people have come along and changed the long-term trajectory of the debate and the search for solutions.

We need to listen to what our young people are saying, even if we don’t like what they have to say. Because, in the end, they inherit the problems we ignore today.

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