On Friday, March 15, 2019, hundreds of thousands of kids from over 80 countries, including the United States, Germany, and Malaysia, will skip school and take to the streets. However, the worldwide strike is not a protest against excessive homework or long school hours. It is a plea to government officials and business leaders to take immediate action against climate change.
The global youth environmental movement began with a single concerned teenager – 16-year-old Greta Thunberg. The Swedish resident was first exposed to climate change when she was just eight years old. She says, "I remember when I was younger, and in school, our teachers showed us films of plastic in the ocean, starving polar bears and so on. I cried through all the movies. My classmates were concerned when they watched the film, but when it stopped, they started thinking about other things. I couldn’t do that. Those pictures were stuck in my head.”
Over the next few years, the youngster convinced her parents to reduce their carbon footprint. Her mother, a world-famous opera singer, stopped flying even though it severely impacted her career, while her father became a vegetarian. In 2018, following a record heat wave in Europe and a slew of massive forest fires in Sweden, the young girl decided to take her concerns to a national level. Inspired by the school walkouts organized by students from Florida's Parkland School to protest against lax gun laws, she organized a similar strike to increase climate change awareness.
While Greta had originally planned to protest with a group of like-minded kids, the effort fell through. However, that did not stop the determined teen from trying to achieve her goal. From August 20, 2018 to September 9, 2018 - the day of Sweden's general elections - Greta skipped school and spent the days sitting on the cobblestone pavement outside the parliament building in central Stockholm.
“I painted the sign on a piece of wood and, for the flyers, wrote down some facts I thought everyone should know. And then I took my bike to the parliament and just sat there,” she recalls. “The first day, I sat alone from about 8.30am to 3 pm – the regular school day. And then on the second day, people started joining me. After that, there were people there all the time.”
Greta now attends school four days a week and spends every Friday protesting outside the parliament building. She plans on continuing this until the Swedish government's environmental policies align with those outlined in the Paris Climate Agreement. The young activist, hailed by experts as "the best news for the climate movement in decades," has also become the unlikely face of the environmental debate. She has had one-on-one meetings to discuss climate change with several world leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The young activist's movement, #fridaysforfuture, has also inspired kids and teenagers worldwide to take up the cause and organize their own strikes, and has led to the combined international protest on March 15, 2019. While the students all hope to convince their respective governments to take action, each country's youth groups have specific demands. The Youth Climate Strike of the United States, led by Isra Hirsi, 16, and Haven Coleman, 12, hopes to convince officials to work toward 100% renewable energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by the year 2030. They are also calling for mandatory climate change education in schools.
The student protests come at a crucial time for our planet. A 2018 report published by the United Nations warns of catastrophic climate change if something is not done to stop the rising global land and sea temperatures. Gunnar Luderer, one of the study's authors and senior scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, said: “Only a rapid turnaround here can help. Emissions must be reduced by a quarter by 2030 [to keep warming to no more than 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) above pre-industrial levels] and for 1.5 degrees C, emissions would have to be halved.”
Hopefully, the worldwide youth march will convince authorities to take action to reverse global warming before it's too late.
Resources: Theguardian.com, straittimes.com, campaigncc.org, wikipedia.org.