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Covid-19 Is Not Stopping School Climate Strikers

Student climate strikers are not letting Covid-19 put their climate activism on hold, instead taking their efforts online as global measures to curb the pandemic make mass protests no longer feasible. 

Gaining increasing momentum last year, global climate strike efforts saw six million people take to the streets to protest inaction in the face of a warming climate in September 2019. An estimated two million of those were school students.

But the Covid-19 pandemic has caused the FridaysForFuture and School Strikes 4 Climate Change campaigns to adapt. Armed with hastags like #Digitalstrike and #climatestrikeonline, the movements are changing to keep campaigning in a socially distant world.

An online post by Greta Thunberg, the 17-year-old activist behind last year’s mass school climate strikes, encouraged students to “take it online” instead of “taking it to the streets.” To join in with this “#DigitalStrike”, activists were urged to post pictures of themselves holding climate strike signs with the hashtag #ClimateStrikeOnline.”We listen to the science, and right now the science says that mass gatherings will cause harm,” read a notice on Thunberg’s post.

The urges to adapt from the movement’s leaders came as planned climate strikes across the world were called off in recent weeks, with social-distancing measures in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19 tightening.

In Auckland, New Zealand, for example, an April 3 strike aiming to follow on from the 80,000-strong crowd seen last September was recently called off after the Government imposed a four week long national lockdown, confining a whole country to its homes and banning public gatherings.

“Take it online” instead of “taking it to the streets”

Continuing to protest the climate emergency is key during the current crisis, youth organisers have said. Coco Ramona Green-Lovatt, 17, from the New Zealand wing of School Strikes 4 Climate said: “I think I speak for New Zealand when I say that our government has shown us that they can courageously respond to emergencies. So it’s important that we demand that they show the same attitude towards the climate crisis.”

But some advocates of the movement have questioned how effective the new online strategy really is. “What you’re going to end up doing is amplifying within an echo chamber, which is really different from what the movement wants,” said Dana Fisher, a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, told the New York Times.

However, organizers say an online-driven movement may actually bring in more people to the cause – especially given the climate campaigns’s already strong online following. “With numerous countries in lockdown and with our strong online presence we are certain to gain a large following,” Green-Lovatt told Affinity Magazine. “And I feel that when we are to have a strong voice then we will expand our following,” she said. “If we all organize and come together (separately in our own homes) … then we will be truly impactful.”

Even before Coronavirus measures came into place, school climate change activists had already established social media as their de facto form of communication, allowing campaigns from around the world to keep in touch and coordinate strikes. “Schools in Australia weren’t allowed to endorse the strikes, so social media was the best way for us to actually reach out to people,” a 14-year-old Sydney climate activist named Ambrose Hayes told Wired last year.

Covid-19 has threatened to slow the climate change movement in other ways, too.

In an example, the significant Cop26 UN climate change talks scheduled for this November in Glasgow were recently pushed back to 2021. The postponement was due to countries currently focusing on containing the Covid-19 outbreak, according to the President of the conference. The Guardian called the Cop26 talks “the most important climate negotiations since the Paris agreement in 2015”.

Prominent climate crisis experts had cautioned Governments against putting off the event, saying it could stall efforts to introduce new emissions quotas. Christiana Figueres, the UN climate chief who oversaw the Paris summit in 2015, advocated for keeping the summit in November, while Nicholas Stern, a climate change expert, said “this is such an urgent challenge and there is so much to do, and so much valuable work that is being done, that we can’t afford to lose the momentum.”

Greta Thunberg revealed on Instagram on 25 March that she was “extremely likely” to have had Covid-19, and urged her followers to #stayhome. Just two days later, the young climate activist was back with her characteristic “Skolstrejk för Klimatet” sign. Albeit from her home, of course.

Featured Image via World Economic Forum

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