Students are leading a worldwide climate strike on March 15. Grown-ups: take note

@guardian / Twitter Greta Thunberg schoolgirl climate change warrior 1552303442.jpg...
@guardian / Twitter

Greta Thunberg is launching the same kind of movement to fight climate change that the kids from Parkland, Florida, inspired against gun violence. And she’s aiming to do it on a global scale on March 15, asking students around the world to join a school strike to demand real solutions on global warming.

That sounds like it would be worth cutting class for.

Thunberg is a 16-year-old Swedish political activist who is leading a worldwide youth movement on climate change. In the last year alone, she gave a TEDx talk on climate change in Stockholm, stunned attendees at two sessions of a United Nations Climate Change Conference, demanded reductions in CO2 emissions at a European Commission conference, and spoke truth to power at the World Economic Forum in Davos. To further prove her point, while many government and business leaders traveled to Switzerland on private jets, she took a 32-hour train ride, as she has insisted that her family give up flying to reduce their carbon footprint.

Thunberg was described in The Nation as the “international climate-change counterpart” to New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who introduced the Green New Deal resolution in Congress along with Democratic Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey. The story calls Thunberg a “charismatic young woman whose social-media savvy, moral clarity, and undaunted truth-telling have inspired throngs of admirers to take to the streets for a better world and call out the politicians, propagandists, and CEOs who are standing in the way.”

On March 15, tens of thousands of high-school and middle-school students in more than 30 countries plan to skip school to demand that politicians treat the global climate crisis as the emergency it is. Shakespeare made the Ides of March famous with his soothsayer’s warning in Julius Caesar, but ancient Romans actually saw it as a day for settling debts. What bigger debt is there than the theft of a livable future?

Thirty countries? The total is up to almost 60, and there’s time for more students to join. The highest involvement has been in Europe and Australia, but U.S. students are catching up—students in 30 states have vowed to join the climate strike. More than 30,000 students stood with her at a January strike in Belgium, and officials in several countries are already giving students a pass for cutting class. It’s likely that “tens of thousands” of students will turn out to be a vast understatement.

Thunberg first learned about climate change when she was 8 years old and had trouble understanding why the subject wasn’t the most important issue for everyone. She started her recent quest when she began camping out outside the Swedish Parliament, accusing lawmakers of failing to uphold commitments to reduce carbon emissions that were agreed to under the Paris climate accord. She missed classes for three weeks, attracting more and more attention to her cause until she settled on her Friday strike dates. From there, she stunned attendees in Davos by telling them that “our house is on fire.” As described in a story on Vox:

“I don’t want your hope,” she said in her Davos speech. “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.”

Thunberg’s trademark is her hand-lettered sign with the words Skolstrejk för klimatet (school strike for the climate). Although she isn’t yet a household name in the United States, in Europe, it’s another story. She travels from country to country, drawing huge crowds and inspiring students—many along with their families—to attend climate rallies every Friday. Her Facebook page has 266,000 likes. She has 236,000 followers on Twitter, and she often issues tweets in both English and Swedish with the hashtags #ClimateStrike, #Klimatstrejk, #FridaysForFuture, and #SchoolStrike4Future. She tweets and retweets action plans and news about climate science. FridaysForFuture lists events and lets interested parties register their own upcoming strikes. The U.S. contact email is USA@fridaysforfuture.org.

The best news is that Thunberg is getting adults to pay attention.

The extent of Thunberg’s influence is growing (remember, she’s just 16). The number of those planning to participate in the March 15 strike keeps growing, too, and now has reached six continents (alas, no penguins).

In her TEDx talk video, Thunberg describes herself as being “diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, OCD, and selective mutism. That basically means I only speak when I think it’s necessary. Now is one of those moments.”

Thunberg looks even younger than 16, with her short stature and ever-present long braids, but she speaks like an old soul, despairing of what the future will be like for her children and grandchildren. She has a thorough grasp of the details about climate change, describing the extent to which developed countries need to limit emissions and rattling off facts and figures about fossil fuel use. She exhorts students joining the March 15 strike to study the details of the Paris climate accord. And she has little use for those who tell her that she shouldn’t skip school for her strikes.

“Why should I be studying for the future, when the future will be no more? When no one is doing anything whatsoever to save that future? What is the point of learning facts in the school system when the most important facts given by the finest science of that same school system clearly means nothing to our politicians and our society? … We can’t save the world by playing by the rules, because the rules have to be changed.”

The Sunrise Movement, the U.S.-based youth climate action group pushing the Green New Deal, is on board with the climate strike. Leaders of the group have been preparing for the strike with nationwide conference calls. While the climate strike is bound to be huge in Europe, it will be interesting to see how widespread it is here.

A 13-year-old seventh-grader from New York City is trying to make sure U.S. students will have an impact. Alexandria Villasenor has been taking her climate action fight to the United Nations headquarters every Friday, the same way her counterparts across the globe go on a climate strike each week. She was inspired by Thunberg’s speech to the U.N. Climate Conference, in which Thunberg said, “You say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes. … You are not mature enough to tell it like it is. Even that burden you leave to us children.”

A Washington Post story profiled Villasenor, who is building a global following of her own. Each Friday she receives emails about how the climate strike is spreading to different countries around the world. As she told a British reporter, “My generation is really upset.” She says the deal struck at COP24, the U.N. climate meeting in December, was insufficient. “We’re not going to let them … hand us down a broken planet.”

Thunberg, Villasenor, and others like them across the globe aren’t messing around. Just as Thunberg was inspired by the student survivors of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High school and Villasenor was in turn inspired by Thunberg, they feed off each other’s energy and serve as inspirations to others to get involved. As the Post story said:

Adults who underestimate the movement do so at their own peril. Since late last year, strikes in European cities have regularly drawn tens of thousands of participants. More than 15,000 people showed up for a strike in Australia — even after their prime minister urged them to be “less activist.”

When a Belgian environment minister suggested that the growing protests were a “setup” this month, she was forced to resign. The following day, 20,000 young people were back in the streets of Brussels.

That day, Alexandria shared an image of a Dutch protest on Twitter, alongside the declaration, “It’s coming to America. You haven’t seen anything yet.”

Besides the March 15 climate strike, some U.S. students have a climate action project of their own. As told on 60 Minutes on March 3, a lawsuit filed on behalf of 21 students in 2015 charges that the U.S. government failed to protect them from the effects of climate change by continuing to allow the burning of fossil fuels. Few took Juliana v. United States seriously, but judges are allowing the case to go forward as the U.S. Supreme Court rejected two motions by the Trump administration to delay or dismiss the case. “Four years in, it is still very much alive, in part because the plaintiffs have amassed a body of evidence that will surprise even the skeptics and have forced the government to admit that the crisis is real,” Steve Kroft said on the show. Those representing the 21 students have 36,000 pages of evidence covering 50 years of inaction by U.S. officials.

It’s just one court case, and maybe just one missed day of school for many of those who will take part in the March 15 climate strike. But all of these “climate kids” are doing their best to save the world. As Parkland survivor David Hogg tweeted, “So when are we going to start walking out against climate change in the US? We live on planet Earth too.”

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