UK pupils join global climate strike

Children downed pens this month to protest against climate change, and more strikes are planned

Crowd of young people holding climate banners at School Strike 4 Climate protest, 15 February 2019

In his 2009 address to the European parliament, which has now become a book, MFM founder Paul McCartney urged politicians to “do your bit for your people, for their children and for the planet they will inherit”. Children have become fed up with waiting for their elders to act, however, and have been forced to do it for themselves.

Pupils across the UK took a stand against climate change earlier this month by walking out of lessons to raise awareness of the crisis facing our planet. More than 10,000 kids from 60 towns and cities put down their pens and picked up their placards at 11am on Friday 15 February, joining a worldwide movement of young people protesting for the environment and against adult inaction.

The children are demanding the government declares a climate emergency. They want it to more accurately report on, respond to and roll back Britain’s production of harmful greenhouse gas emissions, which come from sectors including the food and livestock industry, transport and energy. They also want the school curriculum reformed so that pupils learn about the dangers posed by man-made climate change.

The school strike movement was kick-started in August by a single pupil in Sweden. Greta Thurnberg was 15 when she marched out of her school to begin a one-girl protest outside the Swedish parliament. She continues to do so every Friday.

Her solitary stand struck a chord, inspiring 70,000 pupils in 270 municipalities across the world to follow suit. In December, pupils in Australia went on strike to force their government to stop burning fossil fuels and cut back on livestock farming, both of which produce vast amounts of harmful emissions. They urged politicians to “take our futures seriously” and treat climate change as the crisis it is.

Thurnberg’s uncompromising young voice is now being heard on the world stage: in December, she told a UN climate conference that children would have to shoulder the responsibility of sorting out the environmental crisis, “since our leaders are behaving like children”. At the Davos economic summit last month, she said people had been sacrificing “priceless values… to continue making unimaginable amounts of money. And I think many of you here today belong to that group of people.”

One of the organisers of the UK strike, Anna Taylor of the UK Student Climate Network, said time was running out to alter the course of climate change: “That’s why we’re seeing young people around the world rising up to hold their governments to account on their dismal climate records. Unless we take positive action, the future’s looking bleak for those of us that have grown up in an era defined by climate change.”

Green party MP Caroline Lucas, who addressed school strikers in her Brighton constituency, said: “Our children recognise that this is a climate emergency. They are striking this week because they know we cannot carry on as normal. Teachers work hard to prepare students for their future but right now that future is at serious risk.”

Another global youth strike is planned for March 15, when UK schoolchildren will again be out in force.