Thousands of Youth Worldwide Take Part in Climate Strike

March 15, 2019, 1:36 PM EDT

Above: Young people hold banners during a demonstration against political inaction on climate change on Friday, March 15, 2019, in Nantes, western France. Image credit: Sebastien Salom-Gomis/APF/Getty images.

The biggest one-day protest by schoolchildren in memory—and the largest day of climate action in history—cascaded across the globe on Friday. According to 350.org, a total of more than 1.4 million students in more than 300 cities and 100-plus nations took part in Friday’s #climatestrike protest. Many thousands of U.S. students walked out of classrooms for 11 minutes, starting at 11 am at each time zone. In many locations around the world, the protests were massive and more prolonged. More than 10,000 young people gathered in Copenhagen on Friday (see embedded tweet below), and tens of thousands took to the streets of Montreal.

The strike was inspired by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish student who has become a global spokesperson for the myriad threats that human-produced greenhouse gases pose to future generations. Thunberg (who has now been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize) ignited the climate-strike movement with her own series of solo protests at the Swedish Parliament starting on August 20, 2018. Subsequent climate strikes gathered steam as they spread across Europe and beyond. By the end of 2018, the strikes had already involved more than 20,000 students.

“This wouldn’t be the first time that a single act of civil disobedience helps launch a broad and sweeping social movement,” noted Per Adman and Katrin Uba in the Washington Post. “Although facing threats of a completely different magnitude, Rosa Parks is one such iconic example. Her risky decision not to move to the back of an Alabama bus in 1955 helped launch the Montgomery bus boycott, an important catalyst in the U.S. civil rights movement.” Schoolchildren as young as seven played a key role in lunch-counter sit-in protests to integrate Southern restaurants in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

What does social justice have to do with greenhouse gases?

Many of the organizers and participants from #ClimateStrikeFriday stressed the interwoven nature of climate change and social justice. For one thing, the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions propagate far and wide from those who produce and consume the most fossil fuel. The small island nations whose very survival is at stake contributed very little to the atmosphere's greenhouse burden.

It’s widely recognized that marginalized and vulnerable populations tend to take an outsized hit from climate change, as they have fewer resources and less political power. Reducing greenhouse emissions will help alleviate this injustice—but it’s also possible that even some well-meaning actions to address climate change could themselves create or exacerbate inequities (such as forcing low-income people to move out of flood-prone coastal neighborhoods without taking their needs and community ties into account). That’s why the Green New Deal and other high-profile proposals are stressing the need to keep equity in the forefront while tackling this massive global problem.

Students gather with signs at a #climatestrike rally on the campus of Columbia University, Friday March 15, 2019, in New York
Figure 1. Students gather with signs at a #climatestrike rally on the campus of Columbia University on Friday, March 15, 2019, in New York. From the South Pacific to the edge of the Arctic Circle, students mobilized by word of mouth and social media skipped class to protest what they see as the failures by their governments to take tough action against global warming. Image credit: AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews.

Thoughts on Friday’s climate strike

“Young people make up more than half of the global population. Our generation grew up with the climate crisis and we will have to deal with it for the rest of our lives. Despite that fact, most of us are not included in the local and global decision-making process. We are the voiceless future of humanity. We will no longer accept this injustice. We demand justice for all past, current and future victims of the climate crisis, and so we are rising up.” Open letter from the global coordination group of the youth-led climate strike (Guardian)

“By taking to the streets today to make their voices heard, young people are educating us about how important tackling climate change is to their generation. They are right to be worried about what kind of planet they will inherit and right to demand far-reaching action. Governments cannot sit back, leaving major decisions to market forces. It hasn’t worked and it never will.” Jeremy Corbyn, UK Labour Party Leader (Guardian)

Thousands demonstrate in front of the La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago, Chile, on March 15, 2019
Figure 2. Thousands demonstrate for climate action in front of the La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago, Chile, on March 15, 2019. Image credit: Martin Bernetti/AFP/Getty Images.

“A school strike…recalls some of the most pivotal moments in American history. In 1963, for instance, the Rev. Martin Luther King found that he had run out of adult volunteers to stand up to Bull Connor at the height of the civil rights battle in Birmingham. So, after much soul-searching, King asked the city’s schoolchildren to leave class and face the police dogs and firehoses. ‘Don’t worry about your children,’ he told their frantic parents. ‘They’re gonna be all right. Don’t hold them back if they want to go to jail. For they are doing a job not only for themselves but for all of America and for all mankind.’” Haven Coleman, a Denver student, and Bill McKibben, cofounder of 350.org (Los Angeles Times)

“The students who are striking in cities, towns and villages around the world are uniting behind the science. We are only asking that our leaders to do the same. If those in power today don’t act, it will be our generation who will live through their failure.” Greta Thunberg, Anna Taylor, and others (Guardian)

“I’m here because I think we should have done something 10 or 20 years ago. But luckily the world is waking up. The more people here, the better the impact.” — Anamaria Vaga, a 19-year-old student in Brussels (New York Times)

Commentary by Jeff Masters

Simply extraordinary. A million children world-wide have taken to the streets to tell the “adults in the room” that the very future of humanity is at stake. Wake up, adults!! We must take strong action now against climate change to preserve a livable world for our children.

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

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Bob Henson

WU meteorologist Bob Henson, co-editor of Category 6, is the author of "Meteorology Today" and "The Thinking Person's Guide to Climate Change." Before joining WU, he was a longtime writer and editor at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, CO.

bob.henson@weather.com

@bhensonweather

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