The Importance of the Global Youth Climate Strike Movement

September 19, 2019

Updated with photos from the September 20th Youth Climate Strike in Boston, Massachusetts.

By Craig Slatin

For decades academic climate researchers have bemoaned that despite the dire warnings and the steady stream of extreme weather disasters and climate science updates, the public has barely been moved to demand necessary climate action. Even when the polls show that public concern about the climate crisis has increased, the connections between public concern and government action is weak. The private sector doesn’t seem to be doing much better in establishing meaningful responses to an international crisis. Somehow, despite the facts that a century and a half of accelerating industrial technology and massive burning of fossil fuels for energy have resulted in a planetary greenhouse effect that is rising global land, ocean, and atmospheric temperatures to the point of global warming, we continue with business as usual. Oh, certainly some progress has been made, but simultaneously the computer models of devastating tipping points and climatic dynamics are coming up short. The meltdown is happening more quickly and powerfully than the models predicted.

Growing up with this reality, an eight year old girl in Sweden, Greta Thunberg, saw that action was needed. She talked to adults in her life and they confirmed to her that indeed, without rapid and drastic climate action the planet would soon begin to fail to support human civilizations. Areas would become excessively hot, regions would either dry up or receive excessive precipitation, and in some cases, both would happen over alternating time periods. Human agricultural systems would fail. The oceans would become so acidic that much of the sea life that we depend on for food would find it difficult to survive. Weather patterns would become increasingly extreme, leading to disasters for human settlements. The ecological balance for healthy human communities would be disrupted and the illness and injury risks would increase and threaten the most vulnerable – children, the elderly, the poor, those with limited physical abilities. That little girl wondered how it was that adults would tell her that all of this was true, and yet she saw no one acting as if a crisis were at hand.

Now Greta is sixteen years old, and what has changed is that the climate crisis has gotten worse. Faced with the inability of adults to act as if there was a humanity-threatening crisis, she decided that she must take action – she would stop attending school on Fridays and strike for climate action. Other young people learned of Greta’s action and quickly a global youth climate strike movement took shape. Now, from Friday September 20th to Friday September 28th 2019 the movement will engage in a week of climate strikes and other action in advance of a United Nations climate summit in New York.

So, what is the relationship between the UMass Lowell Climate Change Initiative (CCI) and the global youth climate strike movement? Well, that movement has sprung from the information that the international networks of researchers have been providing about the climate changes, how we need to change our technologies for survival, how we can respond and protect ourselves from the existing climate crisis impacts, and how we build the collective will to take action. This network has been up against fear-mongering and disinformation campaigns by those corporate and economically and politically powerful elites whose fortune and power comes from the production, sale, and use of fossil fuels. But it has also been up against the overwhelming inertia of all of us engaging in our ongoing efforts to survive and sustain our lives and our communities, as well as all the work that we do to correct existing social problems. If we dropped everything in order to prevent the worst consequences of catastrophic climate change, then will all those other problems become insurmountable?

That is why we need the global youth climate movement – because a good proportion of young people are not yet set in the day-to-day adult efforts of supporting human needs and desires – our lives and livelihoods. They have not set their careers, built their families and communities, or even finished their education. These young people can take the information that is available from sources such as the CCI and they can stand out and strike to bring us out of the darkness. Their actions can make us look at them and think about the contradictions of our work to analyze and explain the climate crisis while we continue to drive our cars, fly in airplanes, heat our homes with fossil fuels, and allow political and economic power to continue to be held by those who profit from the burning of fossil fuels. The young people are saying to those of us in organizations like the CCI – we so appreciate all you have done to help the world understand that we are in a crisis, and now we will help you by showing you how to take action. Together we will demand that change happen now.

In all likelihood, many CCI members will find it difficult to fully support the demands of the youth climate strikers. One key demand is for governments to establish Green New Deal approaches to establish a rapid and socially just transition from the fossil fuel economy to a global renewable energy economy. Not only do they want a total change in how we generate and use energy, but they want the injustices of the fossil fuel economic era to be righted and for the populations who suffered exploitation and oppression from those injustices to be compensated and made whole. They want an end to wealth through the theft of resources, genocide, and slavery. They want an end to wars for oil. They want commitments to justice, peace, health, and protecting the environment and ecosystems upon which wonderful human life on this planet relies. They want economic systems and social organization that are grounded in the principles of sustainable development rather than maximizing wealth accumulation for a relatively small percentage of the total human population.

Many of the world’s young people live in poverty. Even in the U.S. at least eighteen percent of children live in poverty. Young people, regardless their socio-economic position, can rightfully demand of the rest of us that they want their future and the ability of planet Earth to support human life protected and assured. Adults have a responsibility to children to respect and quickly act upon that demand. The UML Climate Change Initiative and similar research and education organizations can work closely with this climate action youth movement. We can continue to help them understand the science, and we can recruit the future scientists and educators among them. Importantly, we can learn from them. We can let them help us remove our blinders and see what is needed to successfully overcome the challenge of protecting the ability of humans to live relatively comfortably on this planet. These young climate activists are demanding that we be honest with ourselves and accept that only by adhering to the principles of social justice and goals to achieve global equity and peace can we succeed in meeting the goals to avert a catastrophic end to the climate crisis. It is time to go on strike for humanity – to strike a light so we can see through the darkness, to strike out on a new path of cooperation for the common good. Let’s forget about striking oil. We cannot strike out on this one – there are not enough extra innings in this game.