Movement inspired by Greta Thunberg has snowballed, as Belgian workers join strike
— Hundreds of thousands of children are expected to walk out of their classrooms on Friday for a global climate strike amid growing anger at the failure of politicians to tackle the escalating ecological crisis.
Children at tens of thousands of schools in more than 100 countries are due to take part in the walkouts which began last year when one teenager – Greta Thunberg – held a solo protest outside the Swedish parliament.
Since then the climate movement has snowballed with schoolchildren on every continent except Antarctica taking part.
Friday’s strike is expected to be the biggest yet as evidence mounts of the climate emergency facing the planet. Amnesty International has warned that the failure of world governments to tackle the crisis could amount to “one of the greatest intergenerational human rights violations in history”.
Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International’s secretary general, said: “It’s unfortunate that children have to sacrifice days of learning in school to demand that adults do the right thing. However, they know the consequences of the current shameful inaction both for themselves and future generations. This should be a moment for stark self-reflection by our political class.”
Teen climate activist Greta Thunberg speaks at four school strikes in a week – video
Young people are expected to take to the streets in cities across Europe, Australia, Asia, Africa and the US on Friday.
In the UK more than 10,000 children walked out of class last month and organisers expect Friday’s event to be even bigger with about 100 events taking place involving thousands of schools across the country.
Anna Taylor, 17, who co-founded the UK student climate network, said: “Young people in the UK have shown that we’re angry at the lack of government leadership on climate change.
“Those in power are not only betraying us, and taking away our future, but are responsible for the climate crisis that’s unfolding in horrendous ways around the world.”
Taylor said the UK had been relatively shielded from the effects of the crisis so far, adding that “those least responsible for contributing to climate change are already suffering the worst effects”.
She added: “It is our duty to not only act for those in the UK and our futures, but for everyone. That’s what climate justice means.”
In Scotland, the Guardian is aware of strikes planned in 19 different locations, from South Uist in the Outer Hebrides to St Andrews on the east coast, with large gatherings expected in Glasgow’s George Square and outside the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh.
One of the UK’s most prominent school strikers, Holly Gillibrand, will be taking part, after staging a weekly action outside her school in Fort William, in the Scottish Highlands.
“It’s going to be quite impressive,” said Gillibrand of the School Strike for Climate movement, “and it’s incredibly inspiring that it all started with Greta striking on her own”.
Asked whether she feels optimistic about the potential of Friday’s protest, Gillibrand replied: “I wouldn’t say optimistic is quite the right word. It shows there are thousands of students out there who care very deeply about the environment and are willing to miss school to demand that politicians take this ecological crisis seriously.”
World leaders may listen to the school pupils taking part in one of the largest global climate change protests ever, but the key test is whether they take action, said the 13-year-old.
According to the Scottish Green party, nine councils – which cover 16 of the 21 Scottish locations understood to have schoolchildren involved in protests – have indicated in response to letters from their MSPs that they will not pursue punitive action against young people taking part.
Méabh Mackenzie is organising a protest with about 30 fellow pupils from Daliburgh primary school on the island of South Uist, with the express purpose of standing in solidarity with other threatened island communities across the globe.
The 11-year-old explained: “I just wanted to share what I believe in. Uist is really low lying and I really love the place and don’t want it to disappear.”
Some friends are “not into it at all”, she suspects because they do not want to go out in the cold – the forecast is for hail on Friday.
“I think all the striking around the world will let politicians and lawmakers know that they have to do something because it is falling down the list of priorities. They are arguing about things like Brexit but we need them to act now on climate change. because in 12 years we can’t turn anything back.”
In Belgium, thousands of workers will be striking to join the school students’ protest in locations such as Antwerp, Bruges and Liège, before travelling to Brussels for a large demonstration.
Blue- and white-collar workers are being mobilised across the Flemish-Francophone divide, after an appeal from the Youth For Climate campaign, which has organised weekly demonstrations of up to 35,000 youths since January.
Gina Heyrman, a spokeswoman for the 1.6 million-strong socialist trades union ABVV-FGTB, noted “similarities” with the Paris protests of 1968.
She said: “This is the first time we have had a political strike together with young people. Maybe we’re at the beginning of a new era. I hope so. Everyone talks about the climate now. Everyone is aware of it, thanks to the students.”
The rival CSC Christian trade union is also planning a “massive mobilisation”, although some of its workers cannot strike because of a strike notification law.
The CFDT union in France is also calling for every member to participate in Friday’s climate action.
Earlier this year Thunberg, who started the movement, told a gathering of political leaders and billionaire entrepreneurs in Davos: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.”
by Matthew Taylor, Arthur Neslen, Libby Brooks | The Guardian