Thursday, December 12, 2019

Understanding Climate Strikes

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I gave a talk recently where I spoke about some emerging sustainability trends. One of the trends I mentioned was the relatively new phenomenon of climate striking. During the question and answer portion of the talk, someone asked me a great question, What is a climate strike?

This question made me pause a bit. Climate strikes have been all over the news. However, the news just shows a bunch of kids holding up signs without explaining what a climate strike actually is. This post seeks to dispel any uncertainty about climate strikes and their significance in our current culture.

Climate strikes emerged out of the UN climate meetings in Paris inn 2015. During the meeting, school children in Paris skipped school (often with support of their parents, teachers, and schools) to protest the lack of international action on climate change.

What is key to understanding the climate strikes is to recognize why children are striking. They are growing up in a world where there is abundant evidence that the climate is changing rapidly. The generations before them knew about the problem (or denied the science) and were unable or unwilling to do anything about it. They are frustrated by the times and unsure about the future.

Since the Paris meeting, children have been striking on particular days to show worldwide support for climate action and to show the world their unhappiness with the current state of affairs. Some children strike every Friday. However, there are major global strikes less frequently that mobilize millions of people around the world. The last one was on November 29th.

Some have criticized the climate strikes as just a new way for kids to skip school. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, climate strikers take some sort of action on the day away from school. They may protest, do some sort of environmental action, or in some way engage with the issue of global climate change. These kids are not slackers taking a day off to watch TV or play video games. They are trying to change the world.

Perhaps the most famous climate striker is Greta Thunberg who was just named Time Magazine's person of the year. She started her personal climate strike just 16 months ago. She certainly isn't the first person to do a climate strike, but she has quickly become the face of the movement. President Bolsonaro of Brazil recently called her a brat and the US President recently said she needed anger management training. These reactions show important generational differences in outlook. The generation of Bolsonaro and Trump are seen by the young strikers as the obstacle to serious initiatives on climate change. They are not going to be scared away from their strikes by the name calling. Indeed, it actually makes the name callers look petty and gives more power to the strikers.

The climate strikes are not going away. In fact, they are becoming much more common. Schools and other institutions should be planning how they are going to react to climate strikes. Will they support them? Provide alternative events? Punish the students who strike?

It is very powerful when children speak truth to power. The coming year or two are crucial times for climate change policy. All of us should be grateful for the children of the world for leading the way.

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