By Viveka Jani for Twisted Tiara
During most of your childhood, you were (or still are) constantly reminded by adults around you that you’re too young to be addressing or discussing certain issues. Sometimes it’s about politics, sometimes it’s about that crash you heard coming from your neighbours’ place upstairs, and sometimes it’s about the obscene display of human superiority through a suffocating show of fireworks during festivals. You’re told certain things can’t be changed, that this is the way the world is and you should “pay more attention to academics and your future”. But what if there isn’t a future at all? What if the future in store is not something you’re looking forward to? Or what if your future depends on you talking about an issue that you are considered too young for?
That’s exactly the argument that Greta Thunberg, a teenager from Sweden, made when she started skipping school every Friday, in September 2018, to sit outside the Swedish parliament in protest. What was she protesting against, you ask? The lack of action being taken to curb climate change and therefore jeopardising the futures of millions of children like herself. Her logic behind bunking school for these protests was simple: what’s the point of going to school to build a future if the future is going to be utterly bleak. Makes sense, right?
Greta first heard about climate change at the young age of eight and was stunned at the apathy towards this crisis. Reeling into depression thinking about the terrifying future, she was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and selective mutism. She started skipping school and spending her time familiarising herself with the climate crisis.
She finally decided to speak her mind and her parents became her first audience. She shared her concerns and worries about ‘their’ future by showing them scientific reports, articles and pictures about the present and potential horrors of climate change. She did this until they actually took her apprehensions seriously and started making changes in their lifestyles in order to minimise their carbon footprint. They started with the basics: recycling, using public transport or ride share or bicycle for local travel, reducing use of plastic, switching to led bulbs and composting their food waste. That’s when she realised that instead of just accepting her fate quietly, she could make a difference by advocating for the right to an agreeable and clean future for millions of children like her.
Greta’s climate strikes were inspired by the March For Our Lives protests initiated by the students in the United States of America against gun violence and lax firearms’ laws in the country, as an aftermath of the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Initially, it was a one-woman (or girl) protest with a hand-painted banner saying Skolstrejk för klimatet (school strike for the climate) outside the Swedish parliament. She had almost no support from parents, school teachers or even classmates.
However, in less than a year not only did other youth and adults join her, but her climate strikes turned into a global movement with over 100 countries and more than 1.9 million participants protesting with her across the world. Fridays For Future, as the movement is called, is mostly youth-led and peaceful in nature. Their agenda is clear: urging world leaders to mobilise immediate action to stop emitting gases that cause climate change, and to address the existing impacts of this global calamity.
Every year, leaders from across the world meet to discuss and decide upon a globally accepted action plan for combating climate change. Despite having an international accord (the Paris Agreement), and climate scientists constantly warning everyone about increasing global temperature, polar ice melting and sea-levels rising, we are still far from guaranteeing a habitable future for our coming generations. Climate change is a complex phenomenon and combating it is another ball game altogether. The science is clear; we know there is need for action, but our economic growth and our idea of development are still heavily dependent on the main culprit: fossil fuels.
This is what Fridays For Future is aiming for. It strives to bring down fossil fuel-based emissions to net zero while also providing technological, financial and social support to regions which are already being ravaged as a consequence of climate change. The onus of designing effective and ambitious climate action plans, which also support development, lies on the shoulders of world leaders but the impetus and pressure that’s required to get their act together needs to come from the common masses. This includes everyone right from your grandfather complaining about the unseasonal rains destroying his vegetable garden, to your ten year old niece who isn’t allowed to play outside because she might get a heat-stroke. Climate change affects EVERYBODY!
These mass protests and Greta’s dedication towards climate action have garnered attention and appreciation from world leaders, climatologists and even the UN. Greta has spoken on international platforms such as TEDx, the annual UN climate change summit in 2018, and the European Parliament, among others. Her speeches have also been compiled into a book titled, ‘No One Is Too Small to Make A Difference’. Some of the honours bestowed upon this sixteen year old include being declared the most important woman by the Swedish government on International Women’s Day 2019, being nominated by members of the Norwegian parliament as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize (which could make her the youngest person to receive the honour), and being named as one of the 100 most influential people of 2019 by Time magazine.
She has also received her fair share of criticism and has been bullied but that has only strengthened her resolve to continue. Unfazed by the criticism or even the accolades, she’s pretty candid about the climate strikes saying,
“We children are doing this to wake the adults up. We children are doing this for you to put your differences aside and start acting as you would in a crisis. We children are doing this because we want our hopes and dreams back.”
Some are comparing her to a climate messiah, some as a beacon of hope, but irrespective of what you call her she still is just a young girl who decided to take charge of her future herself instead of falling for that “you’re too young for this” trope.
The next climate march is on Friday, June 7, 2019 and every Friday thereafter. You can check out if there’s one in your city or even find more information on how to organise one in your town or city, here.