Around the world, school children strike for climate action
By now, you’ll probably know who Greta Thunberg is – she’s the 16-year-old schoolgirl who, back in August 2018, sat outside Swedish parliament for three weeks on ‘school strike’, in an attempt to bring attention to the climate crisis. Not only did Greta succeed in gaining international interest, but last month, she was invited to Davos to address world leaders.
Greta has started something – her actions have inspired waves of children’s demonstrations around the world, and prompted mass dispute over whether children should skip classes for climate action. Can, should and are children able to make a difference? Not everyone agrees.
In Australia, Germany, Belgium, Japan, the United States, and the UK, strikes similar to Greta’s have been carried out by school and university students. In fact, it is estimated that up to 70,000 school children are taking part each week, in 270 towns and cities across the globe (Youth Strike 4 Climate).
On the 15th February, UK demonstrations took place in Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast, Cambridge and Brighton, with daring pupils also descending on Westminster to call for politicians to step up.
For the past six Fridays, 13-year-old Holly Gillibrand has stood outside Lochaber high school in Fort William in the Highlands, to take a stand. Commenting on the strikes, Holly says: “I saw on social media that she was sitting outside the parliament, and then lots of other children started doing similar things and I thought, that is something I could do to make a difference. I thought she was brave and inspirational.”
Holly continues: “It’s the first time I have done anything like this. But I feel very angry, very scared and I see that they [political leaders] are not taking climate change seriously. It is an urgent crisis that needs to be addressed.”
Following these influential climate strikes, there has been great push-back from adults – especially from those in power. The Belgian environment minister, Joke Schauvliege, recently suggested that the children’s strikes were not sincere actions of young people frustrated about the future of their planet, but a “setup” and “more than spontaneous actions of solidarity”.
Schauvliege even claimed that Belgium’s intelligence services had information that the children were being led by unknown groups or individuals. But, amid outrage and political backlash from her remarks, she was forced to resign last week.
Holly has gained support globally via social media, where a network of young people are reaching out to her from around the UK and the world. She doesn’t care about adults who doubt and criticise her actions. She says: “I say to people who object to us missing lessons, what is the point of studying for a future that if nothing is done, we might not have? I am striking because we are running out of time. Thousands of children around the world should not be having to miss classes because of our leaders’ inability to treat the climate crisis as a crisis.”
However, Theresa May does not agree that the demonstrations are beneficial, with her spokesperson reporting: “Everybody wants young people to be engaged in the issues that affect them most, so that we can build a brighter future for all of us. But it is important to emphasise that disruption increases teacher’s workloads and wastes lesson time that teachers have carefully prepared for.”
She continues: “That time is crucial for young people precisely so that they can develop into the top scientists, engineers and advocates that we need to help tackle this problem.”
Yet, not all adults have reacted poorly – a number of politicians spoke up in support of the pupils. Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, took to Twitter to share his views: “Climate change is the greatest threat that we all face but it is the school kids of today whose futures are most on the line. They are right to feel let down by the generation before them and it’s inspiring to see them making their voice heard today.”