By Maisie Marston
After the first UK wide climate strikes on the 15th February, students were met with contempt. A statement from Downing Street was subsequently released which read; “It is important to emphasise that disruption increases teachers’ workloads and wastes lesson time that teachers have carefully prepared for… time is crucial for young people, precisely so that they can develop into the top scientists, engineers, and advocates we need to help tackle this problem”, it was clear the message was ‘it’s your problem, not ours’.
Activists like Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teen behind the ‘Fridays For Future’ protests, are acting uncompromisingly on the issue of climate change. Despite the 2015 United Nations Paris Agreement, in which a cap was set on global warming at “well below” two degrees Celsius, the current projection is that the planet will heat up by at least four by as early as the 2060s. The message shared by Greta, and many young activists alike, is that “our house is on fire” and whilst we as individuals do what we can to reduce our carbon footprints, pressure has to be put on those with power and influence; “the bigger your platform, the bigger your responsibility”.
As the inaction from governments has continued despite the strikes, with hundreds of thousands of students left classrooms again on the 15th of March. Over 2,000 cities saw these protests, from 123 countries including Uganda, Hong Kong, New Zealand, and South Korea. Campaigners claim that around 1.4 million people took part. In the UK in particular, many protesting students are demanding the voting age be lowered to 16 in order to give them a say in decision-making on the topic.
Scientists have agreed that tougher measures are necessary to cut global warming, saying that it is the final call to solve the problem. In order to reach the targets which are set out by the Paris Agreement, there will need to be “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”. The necessary changes include a rapid 45% decrease in CO2 emissions by 2030 from the levels recorded in 2010 levels; an increase in the use of renewable energy has to 85% of global electricity by 2050; a reduction of the use of coal to zero; the reservation of seven million sq. km for energy crops; and global net emissions should reduce to zero by 2050. It will be expensive, and scientists often struggle to make progress and balance the concern for the environment with politicians’ concerns of economics and living standards. On this topic, the message of student protesters is clear. As Greta said, we “must speak out in clear language, no matter how uncomfortable and unprofitable that may be.”
The response from some politicians because of the recent strikes has a similar sentiment to the statement issued by Downing Street in February. Australian politician Rob Stokes, the New South Wales Minister for Education, said that anybody who wasn’t going to turn up to school would be punished and that they needed to stay in classes as “you can’t strike if you don’t have a job”. Greta Thunberg hit back that the statement “belongs in a museum”. Other politicians like Leo Varadkar, Prime Minister of Ireland, have welcomed the protests despite being aimed at insufficient government action. He said that he supported the students as they are “telling all the adults in all parties to get our act together and to do more about climate change because it is their future that is in jeopardy”.
Advice from the Committee on Climate Change is due to be published in May. It will propose a national target for reaching the goal of zero emissions which are to be implemented into law. Climate activists and scientists are hoping that politicians act promptly on their guidance to curb the effects of climate change. At the current rate of progress, it’s probably safe to assume we will see more School Strikes for Climate soon.