Youth climate strikers in Edinburgh have been granted the right to take one school day off every year, in order to join local or global protests against climate change. As the climate change movement sweeps across the world, led mainly by teenage girls, seven girls and women tell Stylist why action must be taken.
15 March 2019 saw children and teenagers across the world leave school to demand action on climate change, in what is thought to be the biggest environmental protest in history.
Over 1 million students marched out of school to join over 2,000 protests held in 125 countries.
And that global climate change strike was sparked, as most things are, by one small moment.
On Friday 20 August last year, 16-year-old Greta Thunberg skipped school to sit in front of the Swedish parliament holding a handmade banner that read skolstrejk för klimatet (school strike for climate change). She was there the following Friday, and the Friday after that, and has been there every Friday since, inspiring a global movement called #FridaysforFuture in which children and teenagers across the globe walk out of school to demand action from their leaders.
Since its humble beginnings, that movement has culminated in numerous worldwide strikes that have seen hundreds of thousands of people across the globe marching together to demand change.
There is strength in numbers and the strikes, already thought to be the biggest environmental protests in history, make one message clear: children and teenagers around the world will no longer be silent on the issue of climate change. They are demanding their governments stop failing them by refusing to tackle issues such as global warming and emissions. And they have every right to do so: it is their generation, and future generations, who will inherit potential global catastrophe if action is not urgently taken.
According to last year’s report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, world leaders have only 11 years left to take action that will avoid disastrous levels of global warming. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow at their current rate, the earth will hit 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2030, or even earlier.
As students in the UK prepare their flyers and paint their banners, ready to join their fellow strikers again this Friday, Stylist meets seven incredible teenagers and women around the world who were striking on 15 March to demand change.
From a 14-year-old activist in Uganda to a 16-year-old striker from Vancouver, these are the people whose voices we should really be listening to today, and in the coming years.
“I’ve seen climate change directly impact my community”: Aditi, 16, Phoenix, USA
“I have seen the impact of climate change on my community members, such as extreme heat and lack of trees in urban, more low-income, majority POC areas in South Phoenix. Most people think of climate change as this distant, abstract concept that melts down glaciers in the Arctic, but I’ve seen the issue directly impact my community and others around it, so I chose to get involved.
“Extreme heat, lack of water, the use of solar energy, and fracking are all huge issues on the Arizona state legislature’s plate right now. Solar energy is the one I care about the most, as Arizona is so capable of using solar energy, but big energy companies are dis-incentivising consumers from using solar, and in turn promoting fossil fuels. I aim to promote the use of solar power in my community and others around it.”
“My peers have had a mixed reaction [to the strikes], as my activist friends are very excited and passionate about it, but I’ve also had some backlash, from people saying climate change doesn’t matter or that my actions won’t change anything. Many, however, are motivated by the threat of climate change to future generations and the direct ways we’ve seen climate change affect us in the last few years. We are planning [on 15 March 2019] to have guest speakers and elected officials speak, voter registration, lobbying training, organisations tabling, and climate justice education, and we are so excited for our actions and grateful for the media coverage.
“If we get several voters registered and enough people who are passionate about affecting change in their community, I will consider the strike a success.”
“Scotland is not a world leader on climate change”: Holly, 13, Scottish Highlands
“I am striking on Friday because Scotland is not in line with the Paris Agreement when it comes to taking action on climate change. We are actually in the worst third of countries for carbon emissions per capita. We are not a world leader.
“I want the Scottish Government to take the climate and ecological crisis seriously. They are currently aiming for greenhouse gas emissions to be at 90% of 1990’s levels by 2050, and that is not even nearly good enough.”
“I want to put an end to environmental abuse”: Leah, 14, Uganda
“I do strikes every Friday and mobilise other students to join. I first got involved in the school strikes after seeing Greta [Thunberg’s] bravery and boldness. I saw that the problems she is addressing are similar to those where I come from. I decided to join her in the struggle to save our planet.
“My goal is to cause action from African leaders, particularly my country, Uganda. I also want to increase climate change awareness among locals who barely know about it. I want to have a generation that’s eco-friendly. I want to put an end to environmental abuse. My demand is simple: I need to see the Paris agreement implemented and environmental laws enforced.”
“We’re showing our politicians that we won’t back down”: Isra, 16, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
“I am striking for my future, for my sister’s future, and for my communities. Climate change hits communities of colour the hardest and I don’t want to have to deal with the worst effects after the breaking point, simply because of the colour of my skin or the areas where I live. I want to be able to survive. And I am going to fight for it.
“We are hoping to achieve education. I want kids and adults to come to the strikes or hear about them and think ‘I want to save my future’. Raising awareness and showing our politicians that we aren’t backing down is exactly what needs to happen. And that’s exactly what we are going to be doing.”
“Climate policy is complicated, but the decision to prioritise it is not”: Rebecca, 16, Vancouver
“I am striking because we are in a climate crisis and no one is acting like it. By temporarily putting my normal life on hold, we are setting an example of urgency that we demand governments to follow. Climate policy is complicated, but the decision to prioritise it is not.
“During World War II, the entire government was focussed on the war effort; it was the lens through which every decision was made. Climate must become this same lens. Our government must truly recognise that we are deep in a crisis. We are demanding that they set science-based emission reduction guidelines and mobilise society to meet them.”
“We hope to advance this narrative of climate crisis. In Canada, we are building momentum to bigger strikes, when we will have tens of thousands of students flooding the streets of every city.
“We have a federal election next October, and so our ultimate goal is to make climate change a key election issue. We are not going to stop until our governments address climate as the emergency that it is.”
“The final blow of climate change will affect us all. We need to act now”: Vanessa, 22, Uganda
“I am striking because I love nature. And because I love nature, I want to protect it from being destroyed. Some of the actions that lead to climate change affect nature too. like deforestation. I believe that we all deserve to live in a green environment.
“I am striking because I have a desire to save the earth from burning up. Temperatures are rising at a very high rate. We will not be able to survive if this goes on without being stopped.”
“One of my other reasons for striking is the fear of the wrath of climate change and how it will end up killing us all. Many have already lost their lives. If I don’t fight, I will end up losing mine. I have to protect my family and everyone else living for a better life ahead.
“My greatest achievement would be getting the attention of my government leaders. I hope they will see the problem with climate change the way that I see it and that they will take action immediately. I hope to have other young people join me for the strike, because the final blow of climate change will affect us all. We need to act now.”
“Our government flirts with the coal industries and kicks my generation under the table”: Luisa, 22, Germany
“We strike because we are rushing towards the greatest ecological collapse the world has ever seen. [Politicians] pretend we can ignore it - and with it, our future. Germany in particular has the potential to be a real climate leader, but instead our government flirts with the coal industries and kicks my generation under the table.
“We will show the world that we are not blind, and not scared either.”
This article was originally published in March 2019
Images: Getty, supplied by interviewees