by Zella Downing
March 15 marks a day of youthful solidarity, an authentic grass roots uprising. Sparked by the steadfast certainty of one 16-year old Swedish girl, schoolchildren around the world are uniting to demand that governments take action on climate change and secure stability for their future.
That girl, Greta Thunberg, perfectly explains the rationale behind the strike in her TedTalk. In late 2018 Thunberg stopped attending school and began sitting outside the Riksdag in Stockholm. Her logic was that it made no sense to learn facts and prepare for a future while world governments ignored facts and ransomed the future to climate disruption.
Other students joined her, and by the end of 2018 school strikes had taken place in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, Germany, Finland, Denmark, Japan, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States. This year New Zealand, Colombia and Uganda have become involved as well.
Action, by its very nature, initiates controversy. Although justice dictates that children, teens, and young adults have a voice in shaping their futures, some adults hold the view that children should not be involved in political issues, that they are being used as pawns to broker emotion and somehow manipulate public opinion. Some hold a singular day in the classroom as more important than the awakening of conscience or the speaking out against institutionalised wrong-doing.
In support of the school strike movement, 350 Dutch scientists signed an open letter, arguing: “On the basis of the facts supplied by climate science, the campaigners are right. That’s is why we, as scientists, support them.” In another open letter 224 academics living in England also gave their “full support to the students”.
It is the blatant inaction of world governments that is fuelling these strikes and all climate related protest. On a global scale nothing significant is happening to avert catastrophe in spite of indisputable scientific evidence, numerous global climate forums, a harsh warning from the IPCC that we only have 12 years, key findings from The Economist Intelligence Unit that asserts carbon pricing as crucial to addressing climate change – “Government inaction with respect to this market failure neglects an issue of systemic risk and global importance.” and societal acceptance of climate change as a fact, demonstrated through local governance and business planning documents discussing mitigation or adaptation to climate related events.
Governments are taking too long. Too long for today’s school children to have faith that their future is safe. The Governments are too entangled with the fossil fuel industry, and the campaigns of too many politicians have been paid for by people expecting protection of the status quo. Students are free to act. They have the moral flexibility to see the situation for what it is – a death sentence to future prosperity, health and comfort.
The New Zealand Ministry of Education has offered sage counsel concerning the strikes. They have pointed out that the strike could fall within the parameters of the curriculum. Deputy secretary, early learning and student achievement, Ellen MacGregor-Reid, went on to explain that the curriculum included awareness of the environment and encouraged students to “take action as critical, informed and responsible citizens”.
“As part of their curriculum, schools may want to follow up on their students’ interest in social issues such as climate change. This can include discussion of ways they might raise awareness of these critical issues in their communities, including costs and benefits of any proposed action,” she said.
“No one is acting as though we are in a crisis.” says Thunberg. “When you think about the future today, you don’t think beyond 2050.” She ponders what future generations will ask. Why we didn’t do anything when we still had a chance? “What we do or don’t do right now will affect my entire life and the lives of my children and grandchildren. What we do and don’t do right now, me and my generation can’t undo in the future.”
And that’s why students are going out on strike March 15. “Yes, we do need hope, of course we do, but the one thing we need more than hope is action. Once we start to act, hope is everywhere, so instead of looking for hope, look for action. Then, and only then, hope will come.”