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“Our house is on fire”

On 15 February thousands of UK students joined the Youth Strike 4 Climate strike. Scholar Rosie Smart-Knight told the Guardian newspaper: “I want my generation’s voice to be heard and listened to. We stand to lose the most from catastrophic climate change, yet we’re the ones who’ve been excluded from the most serious conversations.”
Smart-Knight told the newspaper that she and many of her friends are scared of the future. She said:
Twelve years – the amount of time climate
scientists have given us to keep global
warming in check – seems like a long time
to me: it’s two-thirds of my life. But it’s no
time at all to instigate the sort of radical
change that we need. It scares me to think
that my life could be defined so rigidly from so early on.
Smart-Knight lives up to her name in interview. Her climate- conscious friends are just as savvy. They say they know how relatively fast governments – and their agendas – change. “This issue cannot be one that is used for popularity contests, it’s one that requires immediate, unified and urgent action. Politicians are gambling with the future of all known life,” says Smart- Knight.
Her generation is often dubbed the “snowflake” generation; a pejorative term defining young people as delicate. They’ve also been called “truants”, who’ll do anything to get a day off school. Smart-Knight’s savvy come back?
If we wanted a day off school, there are much easier ways to go about it. Standing in the cold, demanding that those in power take our futures seriously isn’t something we’re glad we have to do. I wish that the burden didn’t fall on any of our shoulders. We are being asked to write our epitaphs before most of us are even able to vote, but I refuse to be passive in the face of catastrophe.
Seventeen-year-old Smart-Knight says that when she e-mailed her college community about the strike and its importance, she was upbraided by a staff member who said “[She] wasn’t allowed to use the college system to spread political messages”.
There’s sadness and anger in Smart-Knight’s question: “Surely me doing nothing would be a breach of my duty of care for future generations, just as our leaders doing nothing now is a failure to live up to theirs?” Yet these emotions are overridden by conviction. Says Smart-Knight: “Greta Thunberg’s individual action has shown we can get noticed, and [that] conversations are starting. Imagine how much attention the climate crisis will get when thousands of us demand our right to a healthy planet and a future to look forward to.”
Sixteen-year-old Swede Greta Thunberg has become a climate heroine for millions of teens across the globe. Every Friday since August 2018, Thunberg has steadfastly stood with her sign in front of the parliament building in
Stockholm, demanding that the government take urgent action to combat global warming. Her watchword Skolstrejk för klimatet (“School strike for the climate”), soon spread like wildfire across social media.
Thunberg – affectionately known around the world as Greta, has inspired students in Sydney, Brussels, Berlin, The Hague, London, Hong Kong, Uganda, Ireland and elsewhere. Her simple act has birthed a movement characterised by strikes. Teens have been marching bearing banners stating: “Save Our Future,” “Act Now!” and “Climate Change is Real”.
Greta has taken her protest action right to the top. In Davos, Switzerland, in December 2018, at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP24) she told delegates: “Our house is on fire. I want you to panic. And then I want you to act.”

That hundreds of thousands of students would care so much about climate change has shocked equal numbers of adult onlookers. The protest movement is “without precedent”, says Sylvain Wagnon, history of education specialist at the University of Montpellier, in southern France.
Greta doesn’t just care about the planet, but about the rights of her peers in other parts of the world too. When Australian students were admonished by politicians for wanting to strike, she tweeted the minister of New South Wales in Australia, Rob Stokes. “OK. We hear you. And we don’t care,” she wrote. “Your statement belongs in a museum”.
German authorities haven’t take kindly to teens joining the global movement. And in the UK, then-Prime Minister Theresa May accused the marchers of wasting lesson time and creating more work for teacher. Greta fired off another Twitter salvo: “British PM says that the children on school strike are “wasting lesson time”. That may well be the case. But then again, political leaders have wasted 30 years of inaction. And that is slightly worse,” she pointed out.
Greta and her compatriots have some heavy-hitting adult environmentalists on her side. Wolfgang Cramer, director of the Mediterranean Institute for Biodiversity and Ecology in Aix- en-Provence and a lead author on Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change reports, has stated: “This is something new, something good”. To those who say that Greta is being manipulated by special interest groups, Cramer has said: “It’s shocking that some people believe that we can get rid of this kind of movement simply by making fun of its standard bearers”.
On 15 March 2019, an estimated 1.4 million students in 112 countries around the world joined Greta’s call to strike and protest. And on 24 May 2019, hundreds of thousands of children and young people walked out of lessons around the
world, participating in strikes in more than 1 400 cities in more than 110 countries.
Thunberg has received various prizes and awards for her activism. In March 2019, three members of the Norwegian parliament nominated Thunberg for the Nobel Peace Prize. In May 2019, she featured on the cover of Time magazine. Some media have described her impact on the world stage as the “Greta Thunberg effect”.

Category: Winter 2019

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