Thousands of UK teens set for climate strike

Action: Last November, students in 27 towns across Australia skipped school for climate protests. © Getty

Scientists say we have 12 years to avoid climate catastrophe. In response, UK students are skipping school today for climate protests, joining other students around the world.

“I know this is a drastic action, this is quite a big step that I am taking,” says 14-year-old Zoe Bonnet. “But I do feel strongly that we have to solve it now … I have to do something.”

Zoe is just one of thousands of British pupils expected to skip lessons today to protest the world’s escalating climate crisis. In an organised day of action, protests are expected to take place in more than 30 towns and cities across the UK.

Jake Woodier, of the UK Youth Climate Coalition, claims that young people “realise that politicians are nowhere near where they need to be on [climate change] and want to do something to change that.”

It will be the latest protest in a global student movement.

It all started last year when 16-year-old Greta Thunberg held a solo protest outside the Swedish parliament. Now, up to 70,000 schoolchildren are taking part every week in hundreds of towns worldwide, with mass student protests in every continent besides Antarctica.

Thunberg was even invited to Davos where she addressed powerful leaders from around the world. “Our house is on fire,” she told them in an extraordinary speech. “I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.”

According to researchers, urgent action is exactly what is needed. In a major study released last year, UN scientists claimed that we have just 12 years to prevent the catastrophic impact of global warming. They called for “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.”

Data shows that Earth is on track to exceed 1.5C warming as soon as 2030. Significant warming beyond this point would be devastating and potentially irreversible: coral reefs could be wiped out; sea levels would rise; and deadly wildfires and droughts would become more common.

“Limiting warming to 1.5C is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics,” claims Professor Jim Skea. “The final tick box is political will.” It is this political fight that student protesters are taking up today.

Hothouse Earth

But will the school strikes make a difference? People have been urging politicians to take actions for decades, but many do not feel they are being listened to. Why is this strike any different? Is skipping school really the best way to protest? What other ways could you encourage action on climate change?

Should young people be given more of a voice? For many of the students involved, this may be their first taste of organised activism. Is it an encouraging sign for the future? Perhaps these students are acting with the urgency that is desperately missing from governments’ response to climate change.

You Decide

  1. Is protest an effective way to cause change?
  2. Can climate change be avoided?

Activities

  1. Watch the first video link in Become An Expert — it shows 16-year-old Greta Thunberg delivering an impassioned speech to the World Economic Forum. How does she use language in an effective way? Do you find her speech inspiring? Why/why not?
  2. How can each individual person help fight climate change? Do some research, and find out the three biggest ways that individual people can make a difference. Try to find facts and statistics that back up each point. Present your findings to the class.

Some People Say...

“Climate change is no longer some far-off problem; it is happening here, it is happening now.”

Former US President Barack Obama

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Before the protests, a Department for Education spokesperson said that whether students were given official permission to take part in the strikes is a matter for individual schools. “We are clear that pupils can only take term-time leave in exceptional circumstances, and where this leave has been authorised by the headteacher,” the statement said.
What do we not know?
We do not yet know exactly how many students are taking part in the protests. According to the Daily Mail, protests were organised in 38 separate towns, with most estimates predicting tens of thousands of participants.

Word Watch

Escalating
When something is increasing rapidly, or in this case, getting worse.
Protest
Thunberg started by striking for three weeks outside the Swedish parliament. After the Swedish election, she continued to strike every Friday. She says that missing school is a big sacrifice for her: “I like all subjects. I love learning.”
Davos
Swiss ski resort where the World Economic Forum meets every year. It is regularly attended by the world’s leading figures in politics and business.
Speech
Watch it for yourself by following the first link in Become An Expert.
Study
Written by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Significant
According to the Paris Agreement, governments have committed to keeping climate change “well below” 2C of warming.
Wiped out
Beyond 2C of warming, and scientists predict that 99% of the world’s coral reefs will be wiped out.