“What do we want? Climate justice! When do we want it? Now!”
These were just some of the chants heard at last week’s Youth Climate Strike protest at Philadelphia’s City Hall. All across the country and across the world, students walked out of the classroom and into the streets to show their support for climate action. The first strike, which took place in March, saw protests in more than 2,000 locations from over 120 countries. Last week’s action sought to build on that momentum.
The strike involved students from a variety of ages, teachers, and some concerned adults with signs that read “I’m sorry for stealing your future.” Activists participated in an 11-minute moment of silence to symbolize the 11 years we have left until 2030, a critical point in our fight against climate change. Ideas like the Green New Deal and a just energy transition got big cheers from the crowd of mostly young activists.
Students were prompted to write on a poster board and answer to the prompt: “what are you scared to lose to climate change”? A prompt that only five years ago would have drawn answers like the polar bears or more snow days now painted a dimmer picture. Answers included: my family, my future, everything, and the people that I love.
As Serena of the Sunrise Movement, one of the organizers of the strike, said, “we don’t have any choice but to keep being activists, because our lives literally depend on it.” Young people are uniquely positioned to fight hard for climate action, since most of the negative impacts of climate change will be felt in their lifetime. The latest UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report said the planet will reach the threshold of 1.5 C of warming as early as 2030, increasing risk of extreme drought, wildfires, floods, food shortages, and extreme weather events for millions. As the window for action rapidly closes, these kids are choosing to take a stand.
These protests were started by the 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, a Swedish activist who started the School Strike for Climate and was subsequently nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. Greta has become a strong leader on climate action, meeting with everyone from Pope Francis to the World Economic Forum in Davos. All with the same message: climate change will be irreversible in 2030, less than 11 years from today. We must act now.
Climate change doesn’t just weigh heavily on the minds of Generation Z. As millennials consider the decision to have children, they are factoring in climate change. A poll from Business Insider found that 38% of those between 18 and 29 years old believe a couple should consider the negative effects of climate change when deciding whether or not to have children. Young people of all ages are feeling pressured to plan their futures differently.
Even though the majority of attendees of last week’s rally can’t vote, as Mark Alan Hughes pointed out in a Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed last week, young people bear an unfair burden of a future they often don’t have a say in. When facing the choice of sitting idly by or acting, kids around the world are choosing action. And last week’s group of vocal students here in Philadelphia said if adults aren’t going to do something, they will.