Every Friday, fifteen-year-old Greta Thunberg skips school to sit outside the Swedish parliament in order to raise awareness about climate change. She will do so until Sweden is in line with the Paris Agreement. In light of the UN’s large climate conference that starts today, her actions have inspired a global movement called Fridays for future where young people strike for the sake of the environment.

Greta’s activism went viral this fall when she decided to skip school for 15 days straight to sit in front of the parliament before the Swedish election in September. Already on day two of her strike, she was joined by other people. As a Swede, I remember the attention her activism got in Sweden on the days counting up to the election. On a paper she had placed in front of where she sat, she had written in Swedish “we children often don’t do as you tell us to do. We do what you do. And since you adults don’t give a shit about my future, so will I.”

Greta protesting outside the Swedish parliament. The sign says: “School strike for the climate.”

Autism and politicians’ inaction against climate change

The fifteen-year-old is on the autism spectrum and climate change has become her special interest. Greta has deeply cared about the environment since she was eight years old and first heard about climate change in school. She immediately thought it was strange. “If humans could really change the climate, everyone would be talking about it and people wouldn’t be talking about anything else. But this wasn’t happening”, she explains in an interview with the New Yorker.

Years later, the lack of response to climate change is still a bit bizarre to her:

“I think in many ways that it is we autistic people that are normal and the others that are pretty strange. They talk over and over about how changes in the climate is an existential threat and the most important question of all. Yet the continue like before”, she tells Dagens Nyheter, a large Swedish news publication.

Greta’s words and actions truly highlight the absurdity of the lack of measures taken against climate change by the world. With the New Yorker, she talks about what really should be done by countries:

“The politics that are needed to prevent the climate catastrophe—it doesn’t exist today. We need to change the system, as if we were in crisis, as if there were a war going on.”

Thousands of Australian students striking

Since the election, her strikes took place only once every week, but her actions continue to receive widespread international attention. Recently, her activism has inspired school strikes all around the world.

In Australia, two students heard of her idea and started “Strike 4 Climate Action.” In the name of that movement, at least 15,000 students left their classrooms all around Australia last Friday. A reason for the scale of the protests was comments made by Scott Morrison, Australia’s prime minister. He did, about a week ago, condemn similar protests by saying that he wished for “more learning in schools and less activism.” According to organizers, his statement boosted the number of sign-ups significantly, especially because of the media attention the movement got.

The signs were creatively written, with slogans like “procrastination is our job, not yours”, “I’ve seen smarter cabinets in Ikea,” and “why should we go to school if you won’t listen to the educated.”

A movement gone global

Beyond Australia, thousands of teenagers have protested in countries like Finland, Germany, Italy, Canada, the U.S. and Britain. It is estimated that strikes have taken place in over 50 places around the world, excluding the ones in Sweden and Australia.

The international attention she has gotten has also led to speeches in front of larger audiences than the typical fifteen-year-old would speak to.

About two weeks ago, Greta spoke before 10.000 people in Helsinki, the capital of Finland, and on 31 October, she held a speech at Parliament Square in London to thousands of people. On top of that, she also held a TEDx Talk at the end of November.

In addition, other climate activists and researchers have also shown their support for her recently. For example, Arnold Schwarzenegger has publicly invited to host her to the R20 Austrian Wold Summit via Twitter, a climate organization started by him.

She has also discussed climate change with politicians. In the article in Dagens Nyheter, she talks about how some of them have started to cry when she told them about the severity of the situation. “It is scary that politicians lack basic knowledge about the largest issue of our time”, she says in Swedish.

On Monday, the fifteen-year-old is scheduled to meet António Guterres, the UN’s general secretary in Katowice.

The power of youth and the threat against it

“If everyone knew how serious the situation is and how little is actually being done, everyone would come and sit down beside us.” – Greta to the New Yorker

The movement inspired by Greta both demonstrates the determination of teenagers today and the fact that we are the ones who primarily will suffer the consequences from older generations’ inaction. The school strikers aren’t just trying to save the environment, but their future as well.

The boldness of Greta and the young people who stand along her are a refreshing breath of fresh air in a world that seems far too inept in the face of climate change. Hopefully, the UN’s climate conference that begins today will lead to further steps forward in the fight against climate change.

Photo: Fossielvrij Onderwijs/Flickr

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