SAN DIEGO – The young people of the world have a message for adults, and this Friday (March 15) they will go on strike to make sure their views on climate change are heard.
Tens of thousands of students from more than 80 countries – including the United States, Malaysia and Hong Kong – plan to skip school that day to urge adults to treat climate change as a crisis, and for governments to take action now.
The global youth movement was kick-started last year by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, who had refused to go to school in order to pressure her government to take more drastic climate action. Her move has inspired many other young people to do the same.
Friday’s protest, however, is the first global one, with students around the world expected to take part.
“This is of course nothing that I expected,” Greta told The Straits Times. “None of this would have happened without all the channels of the global environmental community. Millions of people have been fighting for the climate for decades, and without them nothing would have happened.”
Young people point to several reasons for their anger: The raft of recent scientific reports highlighting the perils of unabated global warming for future generations, and the inaction when it comes to implementing available climate solutions.
American teen Kate Anchondo, who is organising a school strike in San Diego, California, said: “I am worried, and angry that we let it get this far. The science has been clear for a really long time, but we’ve never really faced the issue head on.”
Speaking to The Straits Times on Sunday (March 10) near Chula Vista City Hall, where Friday’s strike will be held, Kate pointed to a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as an urgent call to action.
The IPCC report, released last October, highlighted the differences between the impact of a 1.5 deg C global warming scenario and a 2 deg C one, with the latter having catastrophic effects on earth systems, human livelihoods and biodiversity.
The report also laid out pathways for nations to keep warming to the lower limit, but these involve drastic action to cut fossil fuel use and major changes to lifestyles and habits.
“If we act by ourselves, there is limited impact. But striking as a whole nation, as a whole bunch of youth from all over the world, creates a very strong message. It makes the adults face the issue and hopefully prompt them to do something about it,” said Kate, whose parents are supportive of her plans to strike.
There has been success in other areas.
Ms Sara Wanous from the United States activist group Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL), told The Straits Times that her group recently invited 17-year-old student Piper Christian to its climate education board, for her efforts at getting the state of Utah to commit to climate action. In another inspirational story, a group of high school students in Michigan successfully urged their congressman to hold a face-to-face meeting with CCL, said Ms Wanous, when the group had been trying for years to no avail.
She added: “After that meeting, he committed to joining the climate solutions caucus, a group in congress committed to working on climate solutions. Getting that meeting is something that no adults would have been able to do.”
As Mr Daniel Driscoll, a sociology doctoral candidate studying climate change movements and policy at the University of California, San Diego, noted: “It’s tough to say, but saying ‘no’ to thousands of children isn’t easy and it’s not great for public image.”
Very few climate movements have snowballed the way Greta’s has, Mr Driscoll added, with timing of the movement and salience of the issue, being important factors.
Greta’s movement follows decades of failure by policy-makers to take bold action on global climate change, said Mr Driscoll. “Today, most international agreements and country-level policies are either non-existent, unbinding, or merely conciliatory. All this failure and inaction on the part of policy makers and older generations has made younger generations frustrated,” he told The Straits Times.
“Simply put, many young people feel they are inheriting a damaged world and time is running out.”
For 17-year-old Kate, the imprints of global warming has hit close to home.
Last year, for example, wildfires in California razed parched landscapes , with the Los Angeles Times reporting that they were the state’s worst on record, with the blazes killing more than 100 people and destroying some 17,000 homes and 700 businesses.
But beyond that, the high school senior who aspires to be a lawyer also wants to highlight how some communities are affected more than others.
She said: “As a Hispanic living in San Diego, I have seen maps by the California Environmental Protection Agency showing that the areas most affected by pollution are the lower income neighbourhoods and those near the border.”
Moreover, her experience volunteering at the Casa Cornelia Law Center, which provides legal services to immigrants at the United States-Mexico border, had made her more aware of how socioeconomic variables influenced the climate change vulnerabilities of various communities.
All these point to the need for an overhaul in the way people live, said Greta.
She said: “I hope the youth movement will help governments, the media and individuals start treating the crisis like a crisis. Because we really can’t solve a crisis without treating it like one.”
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