Our Kids Want Robust Climate Action, and Are Skipping School to Demand It

Tomorrow's Youth Strike for Climate is expected to be the biggest coordinated global student climate strike yet.

Tomorrow, students around the globe will go on strike for the climate. By the looks of things, there could be tens or even hundreds of thousands of children gathering across dozens of countries. Fed up with a lack of strong action on global warming, these climate kids are skipping class to draw attention to an issue they will inherit, and one they’d like adults in positions of power to tackle.

photo of school strike for the climate in Melbourne
Students in Melbourne, Australia striking for the climate in November. Organizers expect school strikes to be held in more than 1,500 cities and towns on March 15. Photo by Julian Meehan.

The Youth Strike 4 Climate movement, also known as Fridays for the Future, can be traced to one rabble-rousing 16-year-old: Greta Thunberg. Thunberg went on strike last August to protest inaction on climate change, swapping school for the sidewalk outside the Swedish parliament for three weeks starting in August. Following the Sweden’s September elections, she transitioned to striking every Friday, calling on lawmakers to meet the country’s commitments under the Paris climate agreement. (Read the Journal’s December interview with Thunberg.)

Her solo effort and frank criticism of political leaders quickly gained international headlines and soon inspired action by students around the world. Australian high schoolers have been holding Friday strikes for the climate since November. Thousands of students in the United Kingdom joined the movement for a day of action on February 15. Tens of thousands of students in countries like Belgium, France, Uganda, Thailand, Colombia, Germany, India, and more followed suit too.

Organizers expect the March 15 strike to be the biggest coordinated global student climate strike yet. It has potential to be one of the biggest environmental protest on record. Organizers expect strikes to be held in more than 90 countries

Though their specific goals may differ from place to place — students in Switzerland, for example, are calling on their government to declare a climate state of emergency and achieve zero-carbon emissions by 2030, while strikers in Australia are protesting the Adani coalmine and other fossil fuel projects  — the essential aspirations are the same: To spur robust climate action, and fast.

As Youth Strike 4 Climate organizers recently wrote in a letter to The Guardian: “Young people make up more than half of the global population. Our generation grew up with the climate crisis and we will have to deal with it for the rest of our lives. Despite that fact, most of us are not included in the local and global decision-making process. We are the voiceless future of humanity. We will no longer accept this injustice … We, the young, have started to move. We are going to change the fate of humanity, whether you like it or not. United we will rise until we see climate justice.”

In the United States, more than 100 March 15 strikes have been announced everywhere from Long Beach, CA to Lexington, KY to New York, NY. In San Francisco, CA, Bay Area student strikers plan to gather outside House Representative Nancy Pelosi’s office. Nadja Goldberg, a 15-year-old sophomore at Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts, is one of several students organizing the San Francisco event.

Goldberg says she isn’t alone among her peers when it comes to her concern about climate chaos. “I think my generation is especially environmentally conscious,” she explains. “Just the other day we did an exercise in my writing class where we went around and said our biggest fear for society, and basically everyone said climate change. So, it’s definitely on people’s minds.”

She also thinks the Camp Fire in Paradise, CA last fall awakened a lot of people to the way climate change could impact their communities. Smoke from the fire spread across much of the Golden State, causing stinging eyes and sore throats for many, and a menacing red sun. “It suddenly felt like an apocalypse,” Goldberg says. “And people said, Something is wrong.”

Some have criticized the student strikes, imploring students to remain in class rather than take to the streets. Thunberg, for one, has been ready with bold responses to these naysayers. When a spokesperson for British Prime Minister Theresa May said it was “important to emphasize that disruption increases teachers’ workloads and wastes lesson time,” Thunberg retorted on Twitter: “British PM says that the children on school strike are ‘wasting lesson time.’ That may well be the case. But then again, political leaders have wasted 30 yrs of inaction. And that is slightly worse.”

And when New South Wales Education Minister Rob Stokes warned students there would be consequences if they left class, Thunberg wrote: “OK. We hear you. And we don’t care. Your statement belongs in a museum.”

Will the strikes make a difference? Will we manage to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, and preserve a livable planet for Thunberg, and Goldberg, and the tens of thousands of other youth climate activists?  

“I like to think there is hope,” Nadja says. “I think even if there is a slim chance we can turn this around, hope is the only thing that will allow us to change as a society and combat climate change … If we can all come together soon and make a change, and if political leaders can make climate change their number one priority, I think we have chance.”

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