Skipping school for climate action
author: elisabeth sahlmueller | staff writer
“When the world is silent, one voice matters.” Malala Yousafzai
Climate change is one of the most serious issues currently affecting the world. In the last report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released in October 2018, it was suggested that significant action must be taken to improve the environment within the next twelve years, or by then it will be too late to do any good. Unfortunately, not enough is being done to improve this dangerous economic situation, likely because it is a topic that receives very little attention from political leaders around the world.
This lack of action will likely change in the near future though, due to Swedish youth activist Greta Thunberg’s influence. Thunberg has notably protested against her country’s government by skipping school and the strike is meant to encourage government leaders to give more attention into environmentalism. During this process, she has increased international awareness regarding climate change, which inspired youth around the world to act and speak out about this important issue. Thunberg inspires us by challenging the common belief that one individual lacks the power to make a difference in the world – by saying that idea is nonsense.
There was an international public commitment made to address the climate change crisis, demonstrated when representatives from 190 nations signed the Paris Agreement in 2016. The nations promised to put their best efforts toward taking necessary action to ensure that global temperatures don’t rise more than “two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.” Economic issues related to this are still not given priority, though, and such concerns are frequently dismissed and considered unimportant by political leaders.
For example, Sweden has been considered a world role model with its “progressive climate legislation,” involving plans to increase renewable energy source usage and become a completely fossil fuel free country. But despite all of these attempts and ambitious goals, in the first four months of 2018, Sweden’s total emissions have actually increased 3.6 per cent.
This disregard for climate change from Swedish politicians, and their failure to take action as promised, has angered fifteen-year-old student Thunberg and sparked her into action. In September 2018, Thunberg skipped school for three weeks to protest outside of Sweden’s parliament. She argued that the current lack of attention and effort being put towards improving the climate is unacceptable and demanded that government leaders not only address it, but also develop methods and take action to solve the dangerous economic situation.
Although Thunberg’s action started off low-key and local, consisting of just her and a few other students, it quickly gained enough momentum to become a major national youth movement. Thousands of students from countries all over the world – England, Australia, Uganda, the U.S, Thailand and Poland – have been inspired by Thunberg’s boldness, enthusiasm and determination. According to recent statistics, over 70,000 students from 400 different cities have become involved in this movement, protesting in front of their local governments, forming youth organizations focused on improving the climate and organizing their own school walkouts.
In many places, this action involves participating in the #Fridayforfuture movement, begun by Thunberg when she asked students from all over the world to leave school on Fridays to protest climate action. These students march together holding signs with slogans like “the dinosaurs thought they had time too” and “there is no planet B.” Through this action, students not only hope to bring awareness to the seriousness of the climate change crisis, but also want to put pressure on their governments to take effective action and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Although Thunberg has now gone back to school, she has not given up on this important cause. She spends Fridays protesting, leads students in marches and gives influential speeches in front of important world leaders and politicians. In December 2018, Greta spoke at the European Union Conference. At this conference, she emphasized the importance of protecting the earth for future generations and emphasized that environmental actions to address climate change are politically impossible. “If solutions within the system are so impossible to find,” Greta says, “maybe we should change the system.”
Unfortunately, Thunberg’s bold action has incurred some criticism from individuals who believe she should be at school. Theresa May, the U.K. Prime Minister, has stated that Greta’s protests have “[increased] teachers’ workloads and wasted lessons. . . That teachers have carefully prepared.” However, Thunberg argues that going to school and obtaining knowledge is useless if people won’t listen to your ideas to improve the world.
Despite criticism, Thunberg has gained immense national support represented by student efforts all over the world. She has also been congratulated by the older generation of climate activists. Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, has called Greta’s movement “one of the most hopefully things in my thirty years of working on the climate question. [It] challenges adults to prove they are, actually, adults.” As a result, Thunberg has no intention of ending her actions and has a global mobilization event planned for March 15, which aims to send a message to all world leaders that climate change is an issue which should be taken seriously, not ignored or neglected.
There are a lot of simple things that can be done to improve the environment on an individual level, such as recycling, reducing and reusing, as long as people are willing to put in the effort. However, there are also a lot of major actions that could and should be taken by the government such as installing and lowering the cost of renewable energy sources. While Greta Thunberg is still young, she’s an inspirational individual who has created a rippling affect in the international community and created a powerful movement. Because of her, there is a renewed hope for a better future on Earth, and that’s why it’s a movement to support. Power to the Youth!