By Taylor Foster
CERES Education Communications Coordinator
Last year in late November we witnessed students from around the world – including thousands here in Melbourne – walk out of school and hit the streets for climate protests. With a follow-up global day of student strikes fast approaching in mid-March, I thought it was timely to explore how it all started. This takes us all the way to Sweden…
Students from the Melbourne School Strike 4 Climate, 30 November 2018 (Photo credit: ABC News: Andie Noonan)
One of the primary inspirations widely recognised as motivating the recent growth in global student protests for the environment has and continues to be the Swedish student activist Greta Thunberg.
At only 15 years old, Greta started her protest outside of the Swedish parliament last August after heatwaves and wildfires spread across Sweden. Taking three weeks off school in the lead up to Swedish elections in September to camp out on the steps of Parliament, she demanded radical action to address climate change. Although the election has come and gone and she has returned to school, she continues her protest every Friday and is regularly joined by others.
Greta protests outside of the Swedish Parliament with a sign in Swedish stating Skolstrejk för klimatet (School Strike For The Climate) (Photo credit Greta Thunberg)
Gaining global awareness for her school strike protest, Greta has gone on to present at the global climate conference in Katowice, Poland, the World Economic Conference at Davos, Switzerland and has given countless interviews including on Democracy Now! By Amy Goodman. In recognition of her ongoing contribution and influence she was also named by Times as one of the 25 most influential teenagers in the world of 2018.
Greta’s protest was also noticed by a number of students in the rural Victorian city of Castlemaine, who organised their own protest in nearby Bendigo. This in turn helped spark the national climate strike student protests that occurred around the country on the 30th of November including here in Melbourne. The momentum continues to gather, with another national student strike planned for the 15th of March. All of this at least in part influenced by Greta’s individual act of protest.
In addition to her public protest going global, Greta has also made it clear she finds personal changes in behaviour important as well. She has insisted her family adopt veganism, reducing purchasing anything not absolutely necessary and ceasing travelling by plane, the latter resulting in her mother giving up an international performing career.
Greta taking the train instead of flying to Denmark (Photo credit: Greta Thunberg)
Greta’s protest and the growing student protest movement has demonstrated what many of us already are aware of: that students are capable of understanding the environmental challenges the world faces, that they are aware they are being handed a world in climate chaos, and they realise the need to take action be it in their personal lives, in their schools and local communities or on the streets.
What we are also witnessing is that many young people realise they don’t have to – and given the circumstances can’t – wait until they can vote to take actions and make their demands heard about the state of the world. In fact, with the recent IPCC report indicating that we have a little over a decade to avert the worst impacts of climate collapse, many of these students won’t even have a chance to vote in an election before the proverbial hourglass runs out.
So what can educators do to support students in their quest to bring about change? Students can be supported in their efforts to explore the wide range of climate actions beyond voting available to them including individual lifestyle changes, collectively working to embed a culture of sustainability in their schools and other local communities and last but not least public actions such as the school walk outs to raise awareness of their demands on a national and global level.
As we continue to experience ever more extreme weather patterns and events – from Australia’s hottest month on record to mass wildlife die offs and an uncharacteristic polar vortex causing temperatures lower than Antarctica in parts of the US as just a few recent examples – students will continue to seek new ways of bringing about and demanding change. Let’s support them in their quest to change the world!
The next school strike has been planned for March 15th 2019. More information can be found for strike events around Australia on the School Strike 4 Climate Australia website.