“How dare you? You have stolen my dream and my childhood with your empty words.”
These were the words of Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, who addressed the world’s leaders at the 2019 UN Climate action summit in New York and shook the world. In her emotionally-charged speech on climate change, Greta questioned and accused world leaders of ignoring the most pressing issue of climate emergency and instead focusing on money and economic development. She stood up for the younger generations who have been failed and betrayed by the older generations through their irresponsible actions towards climate change. Greta concluded her speech stating that the younger generations will not lay idle and will enforce the change themselves whether the older generations like it or not.
The first of the climate strikes, which were commonly known as “The Global March”, took place on 29th November 2015, a day before the opening of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference. The strike was a combined effort of climate groups and global activists and was organized in over 175 different countries, with the participation of an estimated 785,000 people. However, it was on the following day, 30th November 2015, that the first student strike on climate change started, joined by over 50,000 students from over 100 countries.
School Strike for the Climate is an international movement run by school students demanding action on further global warming and climate change. The movement was started by a ninth-grade Swedish student, Greta Thunberg, on the 20th August 2018, when she sat outside the Swedish Parliament during school hours demanding the Swedish government to reduce their carbon emissions as per the Paris Agreement. During these strikes, Greta held a sign that read Skolstrejk för klimate which means School Strike for the Climate. Greta later went from protesting every day to protesting on Fridays as she coined the slogan ‘FridaysForFuture’ to protest until Sweden aligned with the Paris Agreement.
Her FridaysForFuture gained attention from students all over the world and by November 2018, students worldwide had started protesting in their cities and countries for some action on climate change. Most of these strikes had their individual targets, but their unified message for urgent action to cut emissions and stabilize the climate remained the same.
According to the UK Student Climate Network, the four key demands of these strikes are –
1. Save the Future: The Government should declare a Climate Emergency and implement a Green New Deal.
2. Teach the Future: The education system should teach younger generations about the ecological crisis by including the topic in school curriculum.
3. Tell the Future: The government should inform the public about the severity of the ecological crisis.
4. Empower the Future: The government should incorporate youth views in the policymaking (especially on issues relating to climate change) and reduce the voting age to 16 years.
Millions of students and conscious individuals have participated in the movement globally. Some of the biggest strikes under the movement demanding climate mitigation included 1.4 million protestors on 15th March 2019, 2 million protestors on 27th September 2019, and the largest yet, as reported by The Guardian, around 4 Million protestors on 20th September 2019 in over 185 countries, during the Global Week for Future.
Worldwide, many adults and policymakers have either accepted or criticized the strikes by students for climate change. Conservative politicians like Theresa May have criticized the strikes, describing them as acts of truancy. The Guardian reported a cheeky retort by a high school student from Sydney named Danielle Porepilliasana, who responded, “World leaders from everywhere are telling us that students need to be at school doing work. I’d like to see them at their parliaments doing their jobs for once,” to remarks made by the Australian Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann, stating that students should go to school rather than going on strike.
On the other hand, many scientists from different parts of the world are supporting the strikes. A group of scientists in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland founded the ‘Scientists for Future’ to prove the factual correctness of the claims made during the movement. The UN General Secretary, Antonio Guterres, also voiced his support to the strikes admitting, “My generation has failed to respond properly to the dramatic challenge of climate change. This is deeply felt by young people. No wonder they are angry.”
The word “Climate Strike” was named Collins Dictionary’s 2019 Word of the Year, and on 7th June 2019, Fridays for Future and Greta Thunberg were honoured with Amnesty International’s most prestigious human rights Ambassador of Conscience Award. These spur hope for the wave of ecological change and salvation, generations of the future are fighting for.