Millions of Youth
Strike in September
Something extraordinary took place this past September. On two successive Fridays at least six million young people and their supporters went on strike from school and work. Four million walked out on the 20th and two million or more on the 27th. There were over 5,800 local actions in 163 countries (1,200 in the United States). It was by far the largest climate action in history.
The particular inspiration for the walkouts was the now famous Greta Thunberg. A 16-year-old Swedish girl who anguished for years over climate change began striking alone every Friday last year in front of the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm. She held up a sign that read (in Swedish) “School Strike for Climate” and passed out leaflets. Her example struck a nerve, and soon other students in Sweden and then the rest of Europe joined her. By March of this year, over a million joined in “Fridays for Future.”
The September “Global Week for Future” took participation to a whole different level. On the 20th, over 1.4 million marched in Germany alone, with 250,000 in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. 300,000 marched in Australia, principally in Melbourne and Sydney, with the same number reported in the United Kingdom. Another 250,000 gathered in New York City’s Lower Manhattan and 40,000 in San Francisco. Large crowds were also reported in the major cities of Mexico, Colombia, and India. The marches and rallies on the 27th saw over one million in Italy and over 300,000 in Montreal.
Meanwhile, smaller actions took place all over the world. In the Solomon Islands, young protesters waded into the ocean, to highlight the rising seas, which have already swallowed up coastal communities there. In Kabul, Afghanistan, young women led protests, though they had to march under heavy security. In Rio de Janeiro indigenous leaders such as Tereza Arapiun decried Amazon deforestation, fires and land invasions.
The passion and impatience of the younger generation was clear: “I want people to know that we’re living in a climate emergency. They have to start listening to the science,” said 16-year-old Chandini Brenan Agarwal, one of the Los Angeles organizers. “We’re in danger, and the animals are too—they’re going extinct! I don’t feel like change is being made, because we’re not being heard. So we have to be loud,” argued Jessica Urbine, a 17-year-old student in East Oakland. “I want to make sure the planet is livable for my children and generations to come,” said Berkeley High School senior Roxanne Ferentz, who marched in San Francisco.
While students in Los Angeles were encouraged to attend events on campus rather than travel downtown, there were still several thousand at Pershing Square, where the rally was loud and passionate before the crowd marched to City Hall. A number of students from Valley’s EcoAdvocates attended.
The strikes were planned to wrap around the Sept. 23 United Nations Climate Summit in New York, at which UN Secretary General António Guterres urged countries to make new commitments to reach net-zero emissions by the middle of this century. While their pledges were largely disappointing, the UN convocation was the occasion for Thunberg to give an impassioned speech in which she berated the world’s leaders for not doing enough to control emissions: “I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean…You all come to us young people for hope? How dare you!...People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing.”
All signs point toward continuing youth action. Greta Thunberg has continued speaking at events in the US, including here in Los Angeles at City Hall on Friday, Nov. 1. Meanwhile, the Sunrise Movement, which is an American youth-led political movement that advocates political action on climate change, is busy confronting politicians, usually Democrats, who they feel aren’t doing enough to stop global heating.
All that said, how representative are these young activists of their age group? What does polling tell us about the attitudes of American youth regarding the climate crisis? According to a 2018 Gallup survey, 70% of those 18 to 34 worry a great deal or fair amount about global heating, as compared to only 56% of those over 55. And a more recent survey by Ipsos and Newsy reports that 76% of those 18 to 38 are “seriously worried.” Interestingly, there was no divide between young Republicans and Democrats on this question, in stark contrast to their elders.
It remains to be seen, of course, how engaged young Americans will be. Stating an opinion is easier than committing to political activity, and to date, there has been more activity in Europe than the US. Still, September, 2019, may well go down as a watershed moment in American climate change history.
Greta Thunberg's Speech to the UN
Role of Young People in the Fight Against Climate Change
Sunrise Movement (Wikipedia)