Thousands skip school to save the world
by Colleen McCann
Staff Journalist & Activist
As any teenager who’s ever had to spend 30 minutes explaining to their parents how to reset a modem will tell you, younger generations often get stuck dealing with older people’s problems. Perhaps there’s no better example of this than the current state of Earth’s environment— namely, the fact that it’s gone to shit. Pollution, deforestation, lack of renewable energy sources, the hole in the ozone layer single-handedly created by cans of hairspray in the 80’s, you name it. People really dropped the ball when it came to taking care of the planet.
But on September 20, 2019, those kids and young adults lucky enough to get an excused absence from school (ahem) were looking to make a statement against this. Beginning some months ago with a single 16-year-old girl in Sweden named Greta Thunberg, the “Fridays for Future” movement—created to advocate for environmental reform all over the world—eventually blossomed into the so-called Climate Strike. As is true for many things in life, the event’s epicenter was in New York City; beginning in Foley Square, an estimated 60,000 protestors—the vast majority of them being school-aged—carried out the march, culminating with speeches from celebrities and activists, including Thunberg herself. The turnout was astounding, not just in New York, but all over the world. Over 500 local iterations of the protest took place in the US alone, and countless more happened in cities worldwide. The message here is clear: the planet is dying, and young people are more scared than anyone, for good reason. Predictions have painted a bleak picture of the coming decades—from the melting of the polar ice caps to the sheer enormity of all the trash that will accumulate in dumps, oceans, and wherever else we decide to throw our garbage—and a good portion of our current lawmakers won’t be around then. The responsibility of cleaning up the mess will fall onto the people born into the situation, not the ones who created it.
But before things reach that point, the climate protesters are looking to initiate preventative action. The timing of this protest was chosen for good reason; in three days from the writing of this article, the United Nations will hold the Climate Action Summit at the New York headquarters, bringing world leaders together to extensively confer on climate change and what can be done to ease its harsh effects. Friday’s protest came with a “list of demands”, specific measures that the organizers and participants strongly urge the UN to discuss and enact come Monday’s summit. The full list can be found at strikewithus.org, the official website for the strike. On the site, the demands have been categorized according to which facet of the environmental protection ideal each one will contribute to. Some are to be expected, such as a plan to end the extraction of fossil fuels for energy and stop the destruction of the world’s forests. Others are equally important, yet may surprise some people who have only considered environmental destruction from a certain point of view. The list notably calls for companies and governments to stay away from the lands of indigenous peoples, arguing that since they have far more reverence for the Earth than the rest of us, the decision to respect them is a decision to respect the environment as a whole. Behind this march lies a very thoughtful goal—one that young people are more than willing to champion and rally for. And rally they did.
One of the hallmarks of modern protests is the presence of diverse and creative signs; the Climate Strike patrons didn’t disappoint in that regard. Many chose to quote Thunberg herself, whose statement that “Our house is on fire” has become emblematic for the movement. Others admonished lawmakers for failing to implement environmental protection measures, with particular emphasis on Donald Trump’s decision to pull the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement earlier this year.
Some kids walked around with giant headshots of corporate executives with funny doodles drawn on the faces and made “Hot Girl Summer” jokes. One of the trademarks of “Gen Z” is the ability to respond to depressing shit with jokes and memes, and if the signs at the Climate Strike were any indication, global warming is something deeply disturbing in the minds of our generation. Thankfully, they actually want to do something about it.