On 15 March students from around the world will join a global Youth Strike for Climate, leaving school and college to demand that their leaders urgently take climate action. In this guest blog Farhana Yamin, CEO at Track 0 and Extinction Rebellion Activist and Jake Woodier, an organiser of #YouthStrike4Climate explain why.
Politicians beware. Young people are demanding answers from governments to some tough questions.
Why have scientific warnings about the climate and ecological crisis been ignored for so long?
What emergency actions can now be put in place to stop the extinction of life on Earth?
Tired of the apathy and denialist campaigns funded by vested interests, young people are taking to the streets and joining new social movements that are demanding solutions be put in place in 10 years or less.
That timeframe more or less matches the 12 year deadline given by the United Nation’s chief scientific body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In October 2018, the IPCC spelt out the consequences of what a hotter more disruptive climate would look like. Unless we cut global greenhouse gases emissions by 50% in the next 11 years, billions of people would be exposed to increased storms, wildfires, droughts, floods, acidified oceans and sea level rise which would result in water and food shortages and mass migration.
Students strike for climate in London in February 2019. (Photo: Socialist Appeal/Flickr)
Fearing for their future and acting out of solidarity with their fellow global citizens, this week hundreds of thousands of young people are expected to walk out of schools and colleges to join the school strike movement. They are inspired by 16 year old Greta Thunberg, who in August 2018 stopped going to school on Fridays to sit outside the Swedish Parliament and demand climate action. Since then, thousands of young people around the world have joined the Youth Strike 4 Climate movement with campaigns now active in around 71 countries. In Belgium, around 50,000 children and young people take to the streets every Friday. The UK’s student movement is gathering momentum. The first national strike resulted in 15,000 students and young people ditching classrooms to demonstrate a need for radical and urgent action to achieve climate justice for current and future generations.
Anna Taylor, 17, co-founder or the UK Student Climate Network which is coordinating the mobilizations explains:
“The burden of holding powerful actors to account over their climate records has unfortunately fallen on the young. We’ve been betrayed by the climate inaction of previous generations. We’re having to rise up and fight for those around the world already suffering the devastating effects of climate change, and for our very futures.”
The youth led Sunrise Movement rally in San Francisco in December 2018. (Photo: Peg Hunter/Flickr)
Long held attitudes of moderation are now woefully insufficient given the global climate emergency we all face. From the “Green New Deal’s 10 year plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero in ways that generate clean jobs, supported by the youth-led Sunrise movement and championed by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, to the Extinction Rebellion’s campaign of mass civil disobedience to dismantle the toxic systems that are putting all life on Earth at risk, it is clear that the desire to build a more inclusive society based on respecting nature’s boundaries is beginning to reshape politics.
No-one knows what will happen and no-one can say for sure whether or not fundamental ecological tipping points have already been breached. The good news is that there are millions of people – old and young – who are mobilising around the world to stop humanity from falling off a cliff.
Extinction Rebellion protest at Oxford Circus, London in November 2018 (Photo: David Holt / Flickr)
We can and must succeed in catalysing a peaceful revolution to end the era of fossil fuels and economic systems based on the extraction and extinction of nature. Life on Earth literally depends on it.
That is why we will be supporting students on strike and all those working to defend life on Earth. As citizens around the world join together to courageously speak truth to power, we hope you will give your full support to strikers and rebels where ever you are.
Views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Elders or The Elders Foundation.
have noticed that there’s never any shortage of grown-ups who are
eager to tell you their opinions about whatever you happen to be
doing. That’s especially true when tens of thousands of you—including
my daughter, I’m proud to say—skip school to protest about the
state your elders are leaving the planet in.
(School strikers at the Scottish Parliament.)
a few “responsible” adults—as in “the ones who are
responsible for the mess we’re in”—have made it clear they
think the Climate Strike is really just an excuse to skip school.
Well, duh! Obviously it’s much more fun and educational to be out in
the streets changing the world than sitting in class being taught
about it. You’ve written slogans and designed placards, organised
with friends and debated with opponents, made appearances on TV and
in social media, made new friends and bumped into old ones you had no
idea were involved. Try fitting all that into a timetable and a
Theresa May had this to say about the School Strike: “…Disruption
increases teachers’ workloads and wastes lesson time that teachers
have carefully prepared for. That time is crucial for young people
precisely so that they can develop into the top scientists, engineers
and advocates that we need to help tackle this problem.”
Theresa, but I’ll have to give you an F for that answer. This is a
global ecological emergency! We need action NOW, not in 30 years’
time when a lucky few among today’s teenagers have managed to reach
positions of power and influence. Anyway the vast majority of schools
don’t give kids the kind of education they need to gain access to
those positions. And the wise young people who were on the streets on
Friday know full well that what’s needed today isn’t more technical
solutions, but the political will to put the solutions we already
have into practice, in a way that’s socially just and ecologically
sustainable. No amount of studying is going to achieve that.
it comes to the cost and value of formal education, I know what I’m
talking about. I left school in 1988, the year the IPCC was founded;
I studied science at university, graduating in 1992, the year of the
Rio Earth Summit, went on to do a masters in ecology, then a PhD,
studying the effects of climate change on rocky shore organisms.
November 2002, the very same weekend I completed my fieldwork, the
beautiful coast of northern Spain was devastated by the Prestige oil spill—the worst environmental disaster in Spain’s
history—which covered the whole shore in a thick layer of toxic
black fuel oil, poisoning the seaweed and shellfish I’d spent three
(Futile attempts to clean up the Prestige oil spill.)
all that, I still couldn’t get a job changing the world, so I had to
do it on my own time, supporting myself as an writer, editor and
translator while also building a house for my family—all skills
that I learned mostly outside the formal education system.
in those 30 years since I left school, the global economy has emitted more CO2 than it did during the whole of human history up to that
point, and still shows no sign of slowing down, while ecosystems
worldwide are on the point of collapse. If anyone had told me back
then that we’d be in this predicament now, I think I would have done
less studying and more protesting.
(Global CO2 emissions since the start of the Industrial Revolution.)
here we are.
Unlike George Monbiot, I don’t feel inclined to apologise to your
generation on behalf of my own for having fucked up the world. I’ve
been doing what I can. Let everyone look to their own conscience.
nor do I want to put the burden of the future entirely on your
shoulders. Greta Thunberg has something to say about that: “It’s sometimes annoying when
people say, ‘Oh you children, you young people are the hope. You
will save the world.’ I think it would be helpful if you could help
us just a little bit.”
you loud and clear, Greta. On behalf of the adults of Extinction Rebellion (XR)—and I think I’m safe in speaking for the whole
movement here—I want to say to the school strikers: we’ve got your
back. We’re here to help. We don’t want to take control of the
Climate Strike, profit from it, or use it as part of our nefarious
plot to take over the world (well, ok, maybe just a little bit ;-).
You’ve done a great job so far, and it has to continue to be driven
and organised by you, the young people. But we want to offer you our
whole-hearted support to help the Climate Strike grow bigger and
better every Friday, and make the next mass action, on Friday March
15th, absolutely impossible to ignore.
very practical sense, XR has a lot of resources that you can draw on.
(Of course, we’re also aware of the safeguarding and legal issues
around adults working with children and other vulnerable groups.) We
can offer training and support in a load of different areas: media
and messaging, legal advice, how to plan and cary out NVDA
(non-violent direct action), how to facilitate meetings and
assemblies, prevent burnout, resolve conflicts, and make sure we are
all having a good time, how to make effective and beautiful graphics,
signs, puppets, music… Really, pretty much everything your movement
needs to grow and flourish, except your own passion, wisdom and
dedication—and you already have that in abundance.
about Monday morning?
great that you’re out on the streets protesting on Fridays. I hope
you keep it up and diversify what you do during the protests.
Marching, waving banners and shouting slogans gets a bit boring after
a while. How about holding (Young) People’s Assemblies to talk about
the ecological emergency and what we should be doing about it? Extend
the conversation you’ve started with your brilliant signs and
I think what matters just as much is what you’re going to be doing
Monday to Thursday. Many of you are about to go back to school after
the half-term break: going from schooling adults in how to change the
world, to having to ask to use the bathroom.
the excellent intentions and efforts of many teachers, the vast
majority of schools are simply not fit for purpose. They just aren’t
set up to empower and inform the young people who are going to create
a restorative future for Planet Earth. Rather, for the most part,
they foster a culture of domination, disempowerment, passivity, and
hopelessness: in fact, the culture at the root of the ecological
crisis. The system persists through our resignation and acceptance.
Systemic change is needed, starting where each of us is best placed
to act. For you, that’s likely to be in your school.
climate crisis is a great rallying point, though our predicament is a
whole lot bigger than just the climate. From oceans to insects,
forests to cities, health to justice, no aspect of life on Earth is
untouched. You can create a student-led assembly to demand your
school declare an climate emergency, and discuss what to do about it:
whether that means planting a school forest, tackling air pollution,
eliminating plastics, stopping the use of pesticides, sourcing
healthy local food for school lunches or growing your own… or
reaching out into your local communities. But at the same time,
you’ll likely find yourselves talking about, and coming up with
solutions for, a lot of other problems—from bullying to child
poverty to boring lessons—once you start to see how they are all
words to remember: NEVER. ASK.
don’t mean you should be rude or arrogant in your behaviour. Be
respectful at all times—especially to your opponents; but make it
clear that you’re going to do what you believe is right, whether
those in power grant permission or not. Most adults will be on your
side, even if they might be afraid to say so openly.