On Friday, tens of thousands of student activists with the Youth Climate Strike will walk out of class in over 110 countries, demanding that their respective governments stop treating the environmental crisis with comically sub-par measures. Inspired by the activism of Swedish 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, the youth organization has quickly become one of the most visible movements to plead for serious, immediate action on climate change.
In August 2018, Thunberg began camping outside the Riksdag, claiming that the Swedish parliament had not maintained the country’s commitments to the Paris Agreement from 2015. By December, more than 20,000 students had taken on Thunberg’s mantle, striking in at least 270 cities. In an example of protest cross-pollination, Thunberg says she was inspired by the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who organized the March for Our Lives, which drew around 2 million people in March 2018. Friday’s protest is expected surpass that number by a significant margin.
In the United States, the strikes on Friday are planned in over 100 cities and 45 states. Three student activists, all young women, helmed the protests in the U.S.: Alexandria Villasenor, Haven Coleman, and Isra Hirsi, daughter of Representative Ilhan Omar, who announced she would be attending the Youth Climate Strike in D.C. Already, in Australia, the protests have drawn impressive numbers in Perth and Brisbane. In New York City, the strike will take place at 2 p.m. at Columbus Circle.
One of the most striking elements of the young organizers thus far has been their refined media presence — a trait that’s quickly becoming standard practice for the post-millennial generation. “Why go to school if we won’t have a future?” asked U.S. Youth Climate Strike leader Alexandria Villasenor in an interview with the Nation. “Why go to school if we’re going to be too busy running from the next hurricane or fire? We’ll be migrating to places where we can actually live.” In a striking letter to the Guardian, the group’s leaders wrote:
Young people make up more than half of the global population. Our generation grew up with the climate crisis and we will have to deal with it for the rest of our lives. Despite that fact, most of us are not included in the local and global decision-making process. We are the voiceless future of humanity.
You have failed us in the past. If you continue failing us in the future, we, the young people, will make change happen by ourselves. The youth of this world has started to move and we will not rest again.
For her work spurring the movement into existence, Greta Thunberg was nominated on Thursday for the Nobel Peace Prize. “We have proposed Greta Thunberg because if we do nothing to halt climate change it will be the cause of wars, conflict, and refugees,” said Norwegian lawmaker Freddy André Øvstegård.
With just 11 years to cut emissions in order to stave off catastrophic levels of climate change, young climate activists are gaining momentum in other pursuits — most prominently, the Juliana v. United States lawsuit. Filed by a group called Our Children’s Trust in the U.S. District Court in Oregon in 2015, the suit asserts that the government’s failure to act on climate change has violated young Americans’ constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property. The trial was originally scheduled to begin last October; in January, the Ninth Circuit court denied a request by the Trump administration to delay proceedings.
Though both the Obama and Trump administrations have claimed the judicial branch should not weigh in on the matter, on March 1, eight Congressional Democrats wrote to affirm the validity of the case. “As a citizen of America, I have the same right to life, liberty, and property as my forefathers,” wrote 17-year-old Leon Zha in an amicus brief. “But what life do I have if I die twenty years early from carcinogenic smog? What liberty, if I must stay indoors all day to avoid the stroke-inducing heat? What property, if the land itself is burned to ash?”