Joining in: Saving the planet with activism

Youthquake: Students in more than 100 countries took part in a second school strike in March.

Over 1,000 people have been arrested. Now, 16-year-old activist Greta Thunberg has visited London, urging the Government to listen to protesters and declare a climate emergency. Will it work?

Bing Jones is a 66-year-old retired doctor. Six months ago, he had never taken part in any activism. This week, he was dragged to a cell by police during the Extinction Rebellion protests in London.

“The climate emergency is so real and intense — it’s a privilege to feel you are doing something,” he explained. “Would I be willing to go to prison for this? The short answer is yes.”

Miriam Instowne, a 20-year-old student, has spent the last eight days sleeping in a tent on Park Lane.

She joined Extinction Rebellion to “bring awareness about one of the most devastating things the human mind can conceive of”.

More than 1,000 people have been arrested over the past 10 days for acts of civil disobedience. Activists locked themselves to lorries and buses, blockaded roads and paralysed the capital’s transport network. The group wants the Government to declare a climate emergency.

“We have run out of the luxury of time to react incrementally,” reads Extinction Rebellion’s website. “We must act now.”

While many Londoners have taken to social media to vent their fury at the disruption, others have been inspired. More than 30,000 new volunteers have signed up to Extinction Rebellion since the protests began.

At the heart of this wave of climate activism is 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, a schoolgirl who went from holding a placard outside the Swedish parliament to being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in just seven months.

“We probably don’t even have a future any more. That future has been sold,” she told MPs in Westminster on Tuesday.

In March, an estimated 1.4 million students around the world joined Thunberg’s controversial school strike against climate change. Another is due to happen next month.

Can the protest movement deliver real change?

It’s making progress. After Thunberg’s visit, the Labour Party pledged to make climate change central to party policy.

Speaking to MPs, Shadow Energy Minister Barry Gardiner drew parallels between the protests and previous civil disobedience movements like the Chartists, suffragettes and anti-apartheid activists.

“All of those victories were won by citizens uniting against injustice,” he said.

Tomorrow: The rubbish we make: saving the planet by making less waste

Green dawn?

Should you get involved in protests? Throughout history, civil disobedience has been a way for disenfranchised groups to influence events. Today, headed by Greta Thunberg, this division is overwhelmingly between old and young, who lack real power and yet stand to suffer the most from climate change.

But civil disobedience is most effective when it affects those making the decisions. By missing school, or stopping ordinary Londoners from getting to work, are today’s protesters really directing their anger in the right direction?

You Decide

  1. Would you like to go on a protest?
  2. Is climate change the biggest threat facing humanity in the next century?


  1. Make a placard that you could take to a climate protest. Look at pictures from the school strike for inspiration.
  2. Write a 250-word letter to Greta Thunberg explaining your thoughts on climate change and activism.

Some People Say...

“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.”

Elie Wiesel

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Extinction Rebellion, a protest group that formed in response to a UN climate change report last October, has been disrupting roads and public transport across London for the last week and a half. On Sunday, Greta Thunberg gave a speech at an Extinction Rebellion rally. Today, the group is holding a final day of disruption before the protests end. More than 1,000 people have been arrested in total.
What do we not know?
Whether the recent surge in climate activism will have a concrete impact on government policy, or whether the movement will fizzle out as quickly as it appeared. We also don’t know what the long-term consequences of climate change will be.

Word Watch

When you seal off a place so that people and goods cannot pass through. The protesters parked a boat in the middle of Oxford Circus in London.
Climate emergency
Their two other key demands are that the UK reduces net carbon emissions to zero by 2025, and forms a citizens’ assembly to oversee the fight against climate change.
Party policy
Former Labour leader Ed Miliband is pushing for the party to adopt a Green New Deal, which would raise money to invest in renewable energy and other climate protections.
A movement in Britain in the 1830s and 1840s to win political rights for the working class.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.