The Youth Climate Strike: Everything You Need to Know
While people all over the country were donning green in celebration of St Patrick's this weekend, others were thinking green on a bigger scale. We are, of course, referring to Friday’s global climate strike action. Teenagers and students across Europe chose not to attend school and instead walk in protest marches to raise awareness for our favourite planet. When asked about her decision to strike, one student told us, “I had a Spanish listening test today... why don't we give the government one to see if they're listening.” In addition to their admirable eco-consciousness, we should also commend these students for their ability to throw major shade. (And we’re not even mentioning the plethora of signs making topical puns about “Uranus.”) So, to broach the important question:
What is this climate strike all about? Read on, my eco-curious friend:
Why was there a climate strike?
Anna Taylor of the UK Student Climate Network pretty much summed it up when she said, "Those in power are not only betraying us, and taking away our future, but are responsible for the climate crisis that’s unfolding in horrendous ways around the world.” In other words, it’s a question of governmental responsibility (or, more accurately, lack thereof). We love our planet, and it’s heartbreaking to watch global temperatures rise, oceans warm, ice sheets shrink and glaciers retreat. It’s even more frustrating to think we’re contributing to it (as 97% of scientists believe we are).
Government legislators aren’t doing enough to protect the planet. A great example of this is actually the fashion industry. Organic cotton and recycled polyester are eco-friendly alternatives to cotton and virgin plastic, but they are often more expensive. It is totally within the government’s remit to provide tax breaks on these items while raising taxes on non-environmental or wasteful textiles. This would be an ideal way to reduce the environmental impact of one, particularly wasteful industry. But the Government won’t follow through on it unless we press them to do so. Climate strike action (like the strike on Friday) is an example of how we push them.
Who was striking?
Teenagers and students across the world took to the streets. Over a million people in over 125 countries were involved in the climate strike. Protests took place on six out of seven continents (clearly Antarctica needs to step up their game). Germany led the pack with 300,000 pupils participating across the country.
But one person deserves special mention and that’s Swedish teenage activist, Greta Thunberg. Greta became an icon of climate change awareness in August 2018 when she skipped school in order to protest the heat waves and wildfires in Sweden. We haven’t heard such a good reason to miss school since we watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Just kidding — Greta’s reason is better. In fact, it was such a good reason, it sparked a global movement.
Greta coined the term, “FridaysForFuture.” She encouraged students not to attend school on Fridays, and instead to raise awareness for climate change. Since then, her movement and her following have only grown.
How was it organised?
On 1 March 2019, Greta and her followers issued an open letter to the Guardian, announcing their plans for global climate strike action on March 15th. The letter was a brave and fierce statement. It demonstrated a clear demand for immediate change:
"We finally need to treat the climate crisis as a crisis. It is the biggest threat in human history and we will not accept the world’s decision-makers’ inaction that threatens our entire civilisation. We will not accept a life in fear and devastation. We have the right to live our dreams and hopes. Climate change is already happening. People did die, are dying and will die because of it, but we can and will stop this madness."
The rhetoric of the letter was powerful. In an individualist society in which we place so much capital on our own hopes and aspirations, it can be hard to motivate ourselves to fight for the collective, for the planet. But this letter makes you realise that climate change is an individual issue as well as a collective issue. Destroying the planet is synonymous with destroying ourselves, our hopes and our dreams. Change is needed immediately, and it starts with individuals.
This message fueled the fires of young activists across the globe; climate strike action was organised in 64 locations across the UK. Parliament Square was teeming with student protestors. Their slogans ranged from literary allusions (“I speak for the trees,”) to scary ultimatums (“we don’t have time,”) to throwing some serious shade (“I’ll take my exams if you take action.”) Meanwhile, police struggled to contain climate strike protesters that were, at their core, full of proud and brave children.
Where do we go from here?
Credit: Anders Hellberg
Climate strike action is important as a tactic to raise awareness. Still, it’s even more important that is followed by actual Governmental reform. So what kind of change were the strikers actually seeking? In the UK they were asking for a few things. First, they wanted the Government to declare an official state of emergency with respect to climate change. The next step is to increased public education about the realities of climate change (including mandatory lessons in school curriculums). We totally agree that education is the foundation of progress. Protestors also sought to lower the voting age to 16. When we see how conscious, informed and passionate these students are, we don’t think that’s a bad call.
Is this going to happen? Theresa May’s official spokesperson noted, “it is important to emphasise that disruption increases teacher's workloads and wastes lesson time that teachers have carefully prepared for.” In other words, it’s clear the Prime Minister has a slightly different set of priorities than her protesting constituents. However, we should not underestimate the global impact of such large-scale strike action. Greta Thunberg was recently honoured with a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. One of Greta’s nominators, Freddy Andre Oevstegaard argued that Greta has been an important contributor to global peace as “climate threats are perhaps one of the most important contributions to war and conflict.” This win would be an official form of recognition that the climate situation is a crisis and that lawmakers cannot ignore environmental concerns any longer.