Politics, Science/Environment

Why Greta Thunberg started the school environment strikes

THOUSANDS of children across the world will leave their schools for a strike over climate change on Friday 15 march. Organisers expect the protest to dwarf last month’s demonstrations.

By Adam Vaughan

Greta Thunberg
Greta Thunberg has inspired children globally with her protests

The roots of this phenomenon run back to Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old from Sweden. She has missed school to sit outside the Swedish parliament almost every Friday since last August, demanding politicians bring the country into line with the Paris climate agreement.

Between Greta’s studies, she has berated delegates at last year’s UN climate talks, spent up to two days a week speaking to journalists and generated a viral social media wave under the #FridaysForFuture banner.

Greta had no expectations that her protest would snowball. “The idea was to sit outside the Swedish parliament for three weeks. I think the timing and the concept must have been right,” she told New Scientist.

“I think we have reached a tipping point where enough scientists are telling it like it is”

Being the strikes’ de facto spokesperson isn’t something she particularly enjoys and she doesn’t care about fame, she says. “But I don’t mind it either as long as it is for a good cause.” After learning about climate change when she was 8, Greta later developed depression when she was 11, which she links partly to the issue.

The success of the strikes is to some extent driven by climate science becoming more candid and increasingly dire, says Greta. “I think we have reached a tipping point where enough scientists are telling it like it is and not being so afraid of being alarmist.”

But she is disappointed that a lot of the discussion resulting from the strikes isn’t about ramping up climate action, but about the children themselves. “They talk about our age, our looks and so on. The emissions are still rising and that is all that matters. Nothing has happened, that is crucial to remember.”

More than 10,000 children went on strike across the UK in February, packing London’s Parliament Square and eliciting messages of support from ministers and members of parliament.

Campaigners believe that more than 1000 towns and cities in nearly 100 countries will take part in a strike this Friday as the movement jumps from a largely European one to a global level.

“The use of social media is helping it move very fast, that’s really powerful,” says Beth Irving, 17, who is studying near Cardiff, UK, and organising a demonstration there. Facebook and WhatsApp have helped her connect like-minded pupils and students who have never met.

In the UK, events are expected in more than 100 towns and cities. Some schools have organised their own marches and are allowing young children to attend bigger protests with their parents.

Guilty adults

Sophie Sleeman, a 17-year-old at Exeter College, UK, says part of the power of the strikes is that they subvert the idea of unruly teenagers always being told off, turning the spotlight on teachers, parents and politicians instead. “I feel like it’s making adults a bit guilty,” she says.

Beth and Sophie both say they are driven by a desire to do more than just raise awareness: they are demanding action.

“The focus of these protests is ‘do something’,” says Brian Doherty of Keele University, UK, who has studied the history of environmental activism.

The school strikes, along with the rise of the Extinction Rebellion civil disobedience movement, are different from previous climate campaigning, which focused around summits and their build-up, he says.

It is hard to tease out how much the protests were driven by Greta’s leadership, says Doherty, and how much by a drumbeat of stark science, such as the UN climate science panel’s report last year on the drastic action required if we are to limit global temperature rises to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

“My sense is the bad news was quite a significant catalyst and that begins to explain why you get this type of protest,” says Doherty. What is striking, he says, is how many children on social media make direct references to the science, such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 1.5°C report.

Graeme Hayes of Aston University, UK, says that although the country’s children have protested before, such as over the Iraq war, the current wave of climate strikes involves younger children, not just older teenagers.

Greta’s strike movement is an enormous achievement, says Hayes. “Children have this capacity to say things adults don’t, we see this in

The Emperor’s New Clothes. This is what’s happening here,” says Hayes.

But he isn’t sure how long the movement can continue at this pace. Greta says she doesn’t know how long she will keep going. “We will have to go for a very, very long time, I think,” she says.

First published at the New Scientist – 15 March 2019

See: https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg24132213-400-greta-thunberg-why-i-began-the-climate-protests-that-are-going-global/


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3 Comments

  1. Some of the adults SHOULD feel guilty. Especially those working on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. IPCC. This was established by the United Nations over 27 years ago. It’s purpose was to survey the scientific literature regarding climate change . Most politicians and journalists had confidence in the credentials of the IPCC. Now an investigative Canadian journalist ,Donna Laframboise, documents the fact that the IPCC has relied on “spin and propaganda” . In her book “the Delinquent Teenager “, she reveals that key chapters in reports were written by Greenpeace and World Wildlife Fund activists.” It is clear this body is little more than a massive political vehicle for ‘snouts in the trough’ .”{Michael Gilchrist , editor AD2000} .
    Three Australian scientists have been sacked for disagreeing that man-made emissions cause ‘global warming’ . They show how natural forces eg, sunspot activity, are the most likely drivers of the Earth’s climate.
    The Teenage ”’activists” need to do some homework.

  2. Margaret Beckett

    co2 is necessary for life.the more the better.

  3. Richard Coombes

    Nice cherry picking Anastasia. (Russian Duchess or Disney film?)

    The IPCC report gets mentioned once only in this article but you base your whole argument on it. Let’s forget the other thousands of peer based research AWG etc papers huh?

    Straw man stuff. A literature review of one no less. Phhhhhht!

    Been a tad warmer this summer has it? How’s the Murray Darling going? The acidification of the oceans? The latter of which has exactly diddly squat to do with sun-spots too by the way.

    Meanwhile the world moves on. The dinosaurs do what dinosaurs have always done and the young step forward.

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