A year ago, a 16-year-old schoolgirl named Greta Thunberg sparked the global movement ‘school strike for climate’. Her reasoning was simple: a couple of hours striking off school a week in order to ensure billions of people have a future. A small sacrifice to make. Since then, this one-woman protest has grown into a worldwide movement. In May this year, 1.4 million school children around the world walked out of school. On the 20th of September, not only students (including myself), but adults and pensioners globally joined one of the largest strikes in history. Their message was clear: Time is running out. But is anyone listening?
Climate change is undoubtedly one of the biggest issues to face us today, and the facts are scary and unavoidable. Carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere are the highest they have been in 650,000 years. 18 of the 19 hottest years on record have occurred since 2001. In 2012, summer ice sheets in the Arctic shrank to the lowest extent on record. Globally, sea levels have risen an average of seven inches over the past 100 years. 800 million people around the world are in life-threatening danger from current climate change impacts. These facts might be a bitter pill to swallow but continuing to ignore them simply contributes to the problem.
This is why climate strikes are so important. The younger generation has recognized that if they do not take action, their future is at risk. Youth strikes have no doubt had a significant effect. The latest climate strike reached around 6 million people over 150 countries, sparking wide media coverage of the issue. But have they actually been effective? Are the yells of millions of young people and other concerned generations falling upon deaf ears? Sadly, it is a mixed picture.
On one hand, there have been many who have praised youth climate strikes. Indeed, Leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, addressed young people at a rally in Westminster. “You and a whole generation have brought [climate change] centre stage and I am absolutely delighted about that”. Many politicians and people in positions of power do support youth climate strikes, however there are equally some critics.
In response to the recent wave of youth climate strikes, the Secretary of State for Education told student protestors that they “should be in school and should be learning” and that it was ‘”irresponsible to encourage children to bunk off”, adding that “you shouldn’t be protesting on a school day”. Is he right? Or is it this exact thinking and criticism that is perhaps holding any positive change back? We live in a ‘business as usual’ world, a view reflected by the people in direct positions of power, and it isn’t an easy task to change the perspectives of those who this thinking benefit – and profits.
Despite this thinking, climate strikes can be very successful, especially among younger generations. Campus activism in particular can have a huge impact. Mass strikes by students can raise the policy profile of climate change to other generations. They can also go a long way into changing policies and driving important steps within their own institutions, such as universities, to push towards greener solutions. These changes at a local level can have farther reaching implications. Perhaps one of the most important outcomes of youth climate strikes is the fact that it gives agency and hope to the younger generations who perhaps feel frightened and apprehensive of the current direction the future is heading in. It gives the notion that we as a generation and society are all in this together, and that by banding together as one to strike, we can bring about real change.
Indeed, things have been looking up, perhaps hinting that youth voices are being heard. In May this year the UK government declared a climate emergency, one of the main demands of climate strikes. However, any legislation or evidence that action has been taken on this issue have, as of yet, been absent. To truly be successful, the political power of the fossil fuel industry needs to be matched in order to make fast enough progress. But strikes can aid this. A spokesman from the FridaysForFuture group said, “People power is more powerful than the people in power…The momentum is on our side and we are not going anywhere”. The people that can do something about climate change aren’t currently listening. But if students and ordinary people continue to stand up and strike and refuse to let their voices be unheard, strikes can and will be effective.
As a society it is our responsibility, not just the younger generation’s, to take action and strike. Time is running out. In her address to the UN conference on climate change Greta Thunberg made a powerful statement: “Change is coming, whether you like it or not”.