On Friday, March 15, thousands of protests are planned across the globe with young people skipping school to protest against environmental inaction by their governments. This event is being organized by Fridays for Future globally and by US Youth Climate Strike in the US.
While the Global Climate Strike’s main day of protest is this Friday, March 15th, many protests are scheduled to continue occurring weekly or monthly (you can find them color-coded by frequency on this map). Global youth intend to broadcast their exhortation to climate action to the people in charge of our planet’s future, until governments act in a suitably strong manner to fix this urgent problem.
The movement’s genesis
The “Fridays for Future” movement was started in 2018 by then-15-year-old Greta Thunberg, who skipped school to sit on the steps of Swedish parliament. She has been doing the same every Friday since last August. Her reasoning is: Why bother going to school to secure your future when those with political and economic power are currently acting to dismantle that future?
In addition to her weekly protests at Swedish parliament, she made international headlines when she recently confronted the world’s elites at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Many applauded her precociousness, including those who she confronted, though commitments towards action were noticeably absent.
The message in Davos was that children do not have the wealth or political power to effect change themselves, so it is the responsibility of those who do have that power to act sensibly and not ruin the living systems which these children’s future relies on.
Why it’s necessary
Climate change is different from other problems because we cannot negotiate our way out of it. On the other side of the negotiation table is physics, and physics is not known for budging when asked politely to do so. It has set a time limit, an ultimatum, and we humans have no choice but to respect that ultimatum and act accordingly.
After decades of science continuing to confirm that this problem is bad and getting worse than we expected, just yesterday we learned that, even if the world were to go zero-carbon, large Arctic temperature rises are likely to happen regardless. Soft action is not going to solve this problem. If zero carbon isn’t enough, then the world needs to go negative carbon (actively sequestering more carbon than we emit), and it needs to do so now. When mass extinction of species is at stake, drastic and immediate action is called for.
And despite the Paris Agreement and subnational organizations like the US Climate Alliance picking up where their federal government is slacking off, very few countries are taking action. The world needs stronger action, and it needs it now. Otherwise, these kids will inherit a much worse future from their parents.
And what are the kids to do? For the most part they unfortunately do not have the right to vote on issues that will affect them for the entire rest of their lives – the better part of a century – and are instead beholden to the inaction of the rest of the voting populace.
So they are expressing their voice in the best way that they can. Unfortunately, decisions are being made for them by people who, in their wisdom, have led us into this situation and seem to have no intention of leading us out. And the younger generations are the ones who will have to suffer the effects of those decisions.
Resistance to the protests
As is the case with many protests, those who are uninterested in responsible action to save the climate or who do not respect the democratic process have already started to write off the message of this protest with banal statements along the lines of “they’re just trying to get out of school.” But this is lazy reasoning. This protest has a clear message, so engage with that message. To refuse children the opportunity to use one of few methods they have to express their voice is authoritarian and disrespectful to democratic values.
In a piece in the LA Times, climate communicator Bill McKibben and student climate activist Haven Coleman liken this to civil rights protests in the 60s. Martin Luther King called for a student strike and said “don’t worry about your children…they’re gonna be all right…For they are doing a job not only for themselves but for all of America and for all mankind.” King, in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, also lamented those who are “more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefer a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly say: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’.” To deny these youth their method of action is to deny them justice.
Indeed this action is just, and necessary. Opponents of action will say that these kids should spend their time getting educated instead of skipping school. But if these individuals stand against climate action, then perhaps they could gain a little education from these kids. We’ve known for nearly 50 years that this is happening, yet little has been done in that time to confront the issue. The generation which has been alive all that time and failed to act – or at least those within it who argued in favor of inaction – has lost their moral authority to condescend to children on this issue.
Blame and fault
It is tempting to think about climate issues as somebody else’s problem. The individual suggests that it’s not their fault, it’s the corporations. The corporations suggest that it’s not their fault, it’s consumer demand. Governments suggest that it’s not their fault, it’s public opinion. Media doesn’t feel like reporting on it because it doesn’t get them enough clicks. Everybody wants to pass the buck so they can just move along without thinking about it.
And during all of this, the kids, who are only just learning about the world they’ve been born into, see a bunch of “adults,” who all caused this problem, bickering and pointing fingers instead of taking action.
The long and short of it is that this is everyone’s problem, and we’re not going to solve it without everyone’s action.
Individuals must act to be responsible in their consumption. Corporations must act in making their products in the least environmentally damaging way possible. Governments must act in aligning incentives such that pollution is no longer ignored, or worse yet incentivized, and to guide their populations towards a sustainable future through large-scale collective action. Media must correctly describe the severity of the problem, give it the appropriate amount of coverage, and stop letting fossil-funded lobbyists who deny science and work to harm the world control the conversation. Older generations must act by sustainably using resources so as not to steal them from future generations, or leave the world in a worse way than they came into it. Everyone needs to consider the planet we all share with every action they take.
And kids must act by holding older generations to task in whatever way they can with the limited power they have.
This strike on Friday is one attempt at action. Thank you, youth of the world. Hopefully we’ll see more of this. And maybe adults will finally get it together to solve the biggest, most urgent problem the world has ever faced.
To find a climate protest near you, check the Global Climate Strike For Future map. Events are largely organized by youth, but adults are welcome and encouraged to attend.