A week ago today thousands of young people marched through Glasgow in a demonstration to campaign against climate change. There was much frustration with COP26: Greta Thunberg declared it an obvious failure, ‘a two-week long celebration of business as usual and blah, blah, blah’ from the bubble of those in power.

The passion and conviction of those on the march is something to celebrate – as is their anger. As has often been observed, sometimes to be angry and even unreasonable is not only understandable but necessary. Women’s suffrage was not only won via angry protest – but angry protest was pivotal to a movement founded so clearly on natural justice.

Of course anger can lead to violence, to closed ears and minds, to destructive not constructive progress. But when anger is tied to justice and built on an underlying humanity and compassion, it may be a necessary part of the fuel that drives change. As in the battles against racism, homophobia, sexism and continued gender violence, as in all the battles that campaign for truly equal human dignity and freedom, it is inevitable that anger will play a part, and it is vital that it is leavened on all sides by kindness and understanding.

It is also vital that anger does not blind us to complexity. Two days after the COP26 demonstration, news emerged of a survey across ten countries suggesting most people believe they are already doing more to preserve the planet than anyone else and many do not believe they need to change their own habits.

This challenges the narrative of politicians as a tiny, lazy, privileged elite seeking to protect their own interests against a tide of popular protest. It suggests that we are all grappling with a profound and grave dilemma: how to protect the gradual improvement in human conditions over the 20th century, which still has so much further to go given the continued fight against global poverty, while also reversing the impact of the industrial processes that brought this improvement about.

We do not have to persuade most people of the urgency of the need to do something about the environment. We have to persuade them of the urgency of the need to act in their own lives and to make decisions and support campaigns that carry costs, as well as bringing the benefits on which all of our futures depend.

Critical thinking is a key element in what we teach at The Abbey and above it means asking difficult questions and welcoming difficult answers. The key is to combine this reflection and deep analysis with the passion and direct action needed to change the world. We need zeal, a word for which the OED gives two lovely definitions – ardent feeling and active enthusiasm – and we need nuance. We need to be angry, and where it is called for, unreasonable; but we need to be forensic and honest. We need to live brightly and with passion and sometimes without compromise. But above all we need to remember that we are humankind. It is not a neat coincidence that this term includes the word kind – it is the same word, from the same root. To be kind is to be considerate of each other: it is to be human.

Will le Fleming, Head