Image Credit: Image Credit: Garry Knight
In her speech at the 2018 UN Climate Summit, 16-year-old Greta Thunberg alluded to the generational divide in tackling the issue of the climate emergency: "Since our leaders are behaving like children, we will have to take the responsibility they should have taken long ago."
We have seen the truth of Thunberg’s statement borne out in the continuing failure of governments to act sufficiently on climate change. However, we have also witnessed the determination with which the world’s young people have taken on such responsibility where their politicians have failed. Notably, the Student Strike 4 Climate movement has shown the scale of young people’s involvement in environmental protest. The recent student strike in September 2019 constituted the largest climate strike in history, taking place across 150 countries and with an estimated six to seven million people participating worldwide.
Students are mobilising again for the first strike of 2020, to take place nationwide this Friday (14 February) at 12:30pm. Organised by the UK Student Climate Network, the strike aims to disrupt ‘business as usual,’ to emphasise the fact that our current economic systems (and the mentality of ‘business as usual’) are no longer environmentally sustainable, and to pressure the UK government to agree to reform these systems under a Green New Deal. The proposed Deal presents a policy which includes decarbonising the economy and creating new jobs to replace those in high-emissions sectors as part of the implementation of a green economy.
As a movement powered by students, the climate strikes are significant in challenging the conventional (and highly damaging) assumption of young people as politically apathetic and therefore politically unimportant. The strikes prove that it is the young, not the old, who are leading the way in climate action, and forces those in positions of power to consider the interests of students as a political force. Previous climate protests have attracted media coverage on a national level, putting pressure on politicians to respond to public demands on the climate emergency. As students, we are investing huge amounts of our time in the hope of securing a future for ourselves. With so much centred on our futures, it is vital that we consider the threats posed to our wellbeing by the climate emergency.
With global temperatures increasing, the rising sea levels and extreme weather incidents we have witnessed in the last decade will worsen. We are already seeing the detrimental effects to the world’s biodiversity and ecosystems - it is estimated that a million species of animal and plant are already threatened with extinction - as well as witnessing the human cost in the increasing numbers of climate refugees. It is predicted that by the year 2100, as m a n y as 150 million people will have lost their homes to the effects of climate change.
The recent wildfires in Australia are a frightening example of the threat of the climate change, as well as our proximity to its effects. The positive future we are working towards will only be possible if we act now on the climate emergency. It is for this reason, above all, that participation in Friday’s strike is crucial. The strike also offers the opportunity for students to exercise our power on campus. In the wake of a student-led campaign, York’s vice- chancellor announced in October 2019 that the University has divested from fossil fuels. Despite this, there is still so much to be done in making the University more sustainable . Striking on Friday signals to the University that the climate emergency is a priority for its students, and puts pressure on its management to do more.
The achievements of students so far prove that our actions can have a real, tangible impact if we work collectively. It is easy to feel powerless and apathetic in the current political climate, and to be tempted to detach from these issues. In this respect, climate strikes can have a psychological benefit too. Mobilising as part of a larger movement provides a real sense of empowerment, allowing you to surround yourself with like-minded people who share your concerns about the climate. You will leave feeling that you have made a difference, and with the conviction that there is hope for the future of the planet.
Student Strike 4 Climate, Fri - day 14 February, 11:30am - Students will meet in Market Square and march to St Helen’s Square.