School Strike for the Climate

Victoria Weber, Reporter

September 20th’s global School Strike for the Climate is one of the most recent examples of how today’s youth are making their voices heard. The strike urged students to not attend school that day, as well as adults to take a day off from work. The strike, started by 16 year-old Greta Thunberg, preceded a U.N. emergency climate summit, which Thunberg also spoke at. According to the Guardian, there were approximately one thousand different locations in which the strikes took place, with several major cities and school districts giving students permission to participate in the strike. According to USA Today, some approximations place the turnout at four million participants worldwide. 

Greta Thunberg started her School Strike for Climate when she was 15 years old, and according to the Guardian, didn’t attend school in the 2018 school year until September 9th, 2018, when the Swedish general election took place. However, according to Wired, Thunberg still protested on Fridays, and rose in popularity as she posted on social media about her strike. Thunberg has been the recipient of several awards during her campaign to combat climate change, including the Alternative Nobel Prize. 

There have been several large efforts to reverse the effects of climate change, particularly those of the United Nations, including the Paris Agreement, which, according to the U.N., aims to keep global warming temperatures under 2 degrees Celsius, the Kyoto Protocol, which keeps agreeing countries accountable for their goals to reduce emissions, and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which claims, “The ultimate aim of the Convention is to prevent ‘dangerous’ human interference with the climate system.” The effectiveness of these programs, however, has been heavily debated. According to Britannica, the U.S. plans to formally withdraw from the Paris Agreement on November 4th, 2020.

On September 18th, Thunberg testified at the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and attached the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 Degrees Celsius to her testimony. Thunberg also spoke at the U.N. emergency climate summit three days after this year’s School Strike for Climate. Thunberg traveled to the event through a solar powered yacht that produces no carbon emissions. According to an NPR transcript of the speech, Thunberg said, “The popular idea of cutting our emissions in half in 10 years only gives us a 50% chance of staying below 1.5 degrees [Celsius], and the risk of setting off irreversible chain reactions beyond human control,” and addressed world leaders with the following statement, “We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.” In terms of future plans, Thunberg also plans to travel to Chile to attend a U.N. climate change conference in Santiago, according to the Washington Post. 

Thunberg’s concerns aren’t unwarranted; according to NASA, “Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals1 show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree*: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities,” and,  “The Arctic Ocean is expected to become essentially ice free in summer before mid-century.” According to the United Nations IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, “There is alarming evidence that important tipping points, leading to irreversible changes in major ecosystems and the planetary climate system, may already have been reached or passed. Ecosystems as diverse as the Amazon rainforest and the Arctic tundra, may be approaching thresholds of dramatic change through warming and drying. Mountain glaciers are in alarming retreat and the downstream effects of reduced water supply in the driest months will have repercussions that transcend generations.” The science backs the gravity of the situation, as the world is already set to experience massive repercussions from climate change, and activists like Thunberg are working to reduce the severity of future consequences. 

School strikes and walkouts such as this one are becoming increasingly common. Activism has become an outlet for young adults to participate in making a change without having to vote. Briar Woods High School sophomore Alejandra Smith-Torres agrees with those participating in the School Strike for Climate, stating, “I think they were fighting for the right cause.” When asked what the world should do about climate change, Smith-Torres said, “First of all, stop ignoring it. I hate how big brand companies blame the people, they should take responsibility for messing up the earth, and we should maybe try to preserve energy as well.” In regards to the U.S. specifically, Smith-Torres says, “Stop coal mining in West Virginia, Trump himself isn’t doing anything, and that’s the problem, and he just doesn’t care.” Smith-Torres continued,“It’s mostly not the individual’s fault.” Smith-Torres isn’t entirely wrong; according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, “The residential sector and the commercial sector have lower CO2 emissions levels than the transportation sector and the industrial sector.” Despite this, many movements, such as the zero-waste movement, concentrate on reducing the carbon footprint and waste production of individuals. While these movements are well-intended, their effects on the environment are often deemed negligible in comparison to large corporations’ contributions of greenhouse gases and pollution. However, the School Strike for the Climate signifies growing unrest and dissatisfaction among the world’s population, and a louder demand for action that may transform how the world fights climate change.