On 15 March, tens of thousands of schoolchildren are expected to go on strike worldwide, in a global mobilisation protest against climate change. With plans for strikes in more than 150 cities, it will follow months of action that has seen pupils taking to the streets, from Accra to Auckland, and Strasbourg to Seattle.
The movement started with Greta Thunberg, a Swedish schoolgirl who went on a solo protest in August 2018, following the country’s hottest summer ever. Three weeks of sitting outside parliament in the run up to a general election soon inspired other students to take action. In November, 15,000 Australian students left school and three recently met with the leader of the opposition. On 2 February, Switzerland saw 65,000 students strike, whilst Belgium experienced four consecutive weeks of protest, made famous by a sign addressed to politicians that read: ‘I’ll do my homework when you do yours’. Although Europe and Australasia have seen the majority of protests, strikes have also been organised in places such as Medellin and Tokyo, as documented by blogger The Dormouse That Roared.
Thunberg’s call for immediate action against climate change has also been heard on global stages. In December, she spoke at the UN Climate Conference in Katowice, Poland. She accused politicians of ‘acting like children’ and said it was time for the young generation to make their voices heard and start to ‘clean up’ the mess of an older generation. More recently, Thunberg took the protests to Davos and the World Economic Forum, asking businessmen and leaders to commit to a 1.5C world and to stand on the right side of history. She said it was wrong for people to say that we’re not doing enough, as for that we’d have to be doing something, but ‘we are basically not doing anything’.
The school strikes come at a time when climate records are constantly being made and UN reports make stark warnings. David Attenborough told Katowice attendees that the collapse of civilisation was on the horizon, echoing a UN report where leading climate scientists suggested there we only have twelve years to avoid a climate catastrophe. However, the strikes have not been fully welcomed by politicians around the world. Flemish politicians urged students ‘not to believe in the apocalypse’ and Australia’s resources minister faced a backlash after suggesting the only thing the students would learn is ‘how to join the dole queue’.