We should listen to young climate activists

Kethan Srinivasan ’21 – Index Staff

This past month testifies to the power of high school students and climate change activism. This topic has become crucial, albeit controversial, for both students and politicians. On Friday, September 20, we witnessed one of the largest odes to climate activism in the past few years. In a worldwide effort, millions of people, old and young, demonstrated the commitment needed to tackle climate change during the global “Fridays for Future” Climate Strike.

     This movement, spearheaded by hundreds of youth activists in an effort to call out government and business inaction on climate change, has received worldwide attention. According to activists, attendance numbers reached as high as four million.

     The global strike coincided with the occurrence of the United Nations Climate Action Summit on September 23, where countries were supposed to ramp up their ambitions to curb greenhouse gases. Sixteen-year-old Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg received worldwide attention for skipping school on a Friday to protest in front of Swedish Parliament alone.

     In an interview with the British Channel 4 News, she ssid, “This could only be a fantasy. I would never have predicted or believed that this was going to happen some day, and so fast, only a few months.”

     The effect was massive. On the day of the strike, numerous worldwide cities were rife with marches, including Philadelphia. Protests across capital cities in Europe had the most shocking spectacles, particularly in Berlin, where activists staged a scene: standing on blocks of ice, waiting for the noose around their necks tied to to the gallows to tighten.

     The effects of the protests were apparent even during the UN Climate Action Summit the following week, with world leaders Narendra Modi, Angela Merkel, Jacinda Ardern, and even Pope Francis all chiming in agreement for a collective effort to take care of the planet. At the summit, Thunberg made an impassioned speech blazing with contempt, aiming directly at idle world leaders.

     “This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean,” Thunberg said. “Yet you all come to us young people for hope? How dare you!”

     “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words, and yet I’m one of the lucky ones,” Thunberg said. “People are suffering, people are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth…how dare you!”

Climate change skepticism still exists, and the fight may remain stagnant until today’s youth hit the polls.

     However, there were drawbacks. In Philadelphia, the city’s public school district met criticism for choosing to label students attending the protests as “absent” instead of excusing them. Beyond the widely used criticisms of “students should stay in school,” various commentators have fired shots at Thunberg, the spearhead of climate change activism. Various figures have dismissed the protests and label Thunberg negatively. She has been called mentally ill (she is diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome), hysterical, and a victim of her parents’ abuse. Leaders such as Vladimir Putin and even Donald Trump have made critical remarks.

     Are we to expect that with all the strikes, clashes, and name-calling, it is possible to create momentum in the fight for the Earth? It is possible, albeit the time it will take is uncertain. Climate change skepticism still exists, and the fight may remain stagnant until today’s youth hit the polls.