For the past several months, growing numbers of students around the world have been cutting class — not to play but to protest.
The topic driving them is the same: Earth’s changing climate, as evidenced by increasing wildfires and droughts, rising seas and more extreme weather. As the students see it, governments have not done enough to cut the emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, to limit global warming or to plan ways to adapt to the impacts of climate change.
On March 15, this student-led protest will crescendo with a coordinated strike set to take place across the globe. More than 1,300 events are planned in 98 countries from Argentina to Vanuatu, according to a list kept by the group Fridays For Future.
“These kids speak with a moral clarity and poignancy that none but the most jaded of ears can fail to hear,” says Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Penn State. He says he believes the school-strike movement “is part of why we will soon see a tipping point on climate action here in the U.S. and around the rest of the world.”
What motivates Milou Albrecht, 14, of Castlemaine, Australia, who is a coleader of strikes in her country, is worry about wildfires. When she was little, a fire quickly approached the bush country where she was playing at a friend’s house. Smoke filled the air, she recalls, and everyone had to evacuate. “You didn’t know what to take, so we didn’t take anything.”
Milou remembers feeling terror while waiting in an underground bunker for the fire to pass. Spurred by the scare to find out more about bushfires, she learned that climate change is making such wildfires more frequent in Australia and elsewhere.
The planet’s average temperature has risen about 1 degree Celsius since preindustrial times, according to a 2018 report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC (SN: 12/22/18, p. 18). Human-induced global warming already has caused multiple changes in Earth’s climate, the IPCC noted in its report, pointing to more heat waves, more and heavier rains or snow events and a greater risk of drought.
If emissions continue at the current rate, the increase in average global temperatures will hit 1.5 degrees C sometime between 2030 and 2052, the IPCC says. Beyond that point, impacts will be even more severe.
And the longer people wait to cut back releases of greenhouse gases, the more difficult it may be. For instance, the longer U.S. auto and energy companies wait, the higher the costs for any action would be, according to an October 2017 study in Environmental Science & Technology.
Such data, many students now argue, means the time to act is now.
Many young protesters have drawn inspiration from Greta Thunberg, a 16-year old Swedish teen with Asperger’s syndrome. Although this mild form of autism can leave people uncomfortable in social situations, Greta began regularly protesting outside Sweden’s Parliament during the summer of 2018. Her protests inspired the Fridays for Future movement.
Greta also has encouraged kids to strike in other countries and spoke to delegates at the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNCCC), held in December in Katowice, Poland.
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