After a two year hiatus due to pandemic lockdowns and other public health restrictions for Covid-19, the world’s youth are once again marching in the streets en masse, lambasting their leaders for the continued rise of global greenhouse gas emissions and demanding that they do far more to address the rapidly worsening climate crisis.
Photos of the protests have already begun to flood Twitter and other social media. In Tokyo, high school students are protesting outside an investment bank, demanding it stop financing new coal plants. In Bangladesh, children—some of whom have yet to reach their teenage years—are standing waist deep in water, urging world leaders to do more to stop the rising seas that are already making floods worse in their hometowns. And at the Neumayer Station III research facility in Antarctica, climate researchers are holding signs with nothing but their lab and frigid tundra behind them, demanding more be done to slow the melting of the earth’s glaciers and ice caps.
More than 700 protests worldwide are planned for Friday, according to Friday’s for Future, the youth climate strike organization that sprung from Greta Thunberg’s solitary school strike and vigil at the Swedish parliament in 2018.
By 2019, Thunberg’s humble protest had evolved into a major movement, as she led an estimated 250,000 people through New York City’s financial district, demanding that Wall Street investors move their money toward renewable energy and away from fossil fuels, the main driver of human-caused climate change.
Children and young adults, worried about what climate change meant for their future, skipped school and turned out in huge numbers. In total, around 6 million people worldwide were believed to have marched in the 2019 strikes, marking what is believed to be the biggest climate demonstration in history and sparking a major political shift in how seriously world leaders began viewing the threat of global warming.
But since then, youth climate activists, who over the last two years have been forced to organize their movement over Zoom and through other online means, say governments have done very little to wean their countries off fossil fuels and are also failing to provide proper help to the developing countries that are least responsible for global warming but suffering the most because of it. Developing nations are still waiting on the full $100 billion per year promised by wealthier countries to help them adapt to the consequences of rising temperatures.
Those criticisms were also leveled at world leaders after last year’s COP26 global climate talks ended in what environmentalists and climate campaigners widely called a failure. By returning their demonstrations to the streets, the youth campaigners hope to make a show of force, as they did in 2019, pressuring their leaders to take a stronger stand against an oil and gas industry that still holds its grip on the world’s economic and political systems.
“We’ve been incredibly isolated and while the climate movement has continued during Covid, we need to reignite hope and strikes to push our leaders to act,” Liv Schroeder, the national coordinator and policy director for Fridays for Future U.S., told me in an email. “I want those in power to listen to us very carefully. Young people are angry, and I want fossil fuel executives to be as scared as we are.”
Friday’s strikes come as new reports from the scientific community show that the climate crisis is progressing far more quickly than previously thought, leaving even less time to implement solutions. In February, scientists from around the world released a landmark climate report, which warned that the world is already experiencing irreversible climate change and humanity isn’t moving nearly quickly enough to adapt.
And a study published this week in the journal Nature Reviews Earth & Environment found that even with the record drop in emissions caused by pandemic lockdowns in 2020, global emissions have rebounded so much in 2021 that the world is likely now on track to warm by 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels within the decade. That jeopardizes the key target set by the Paris climate accord, which scientists say must be met to avoid the worst consequences of global warming by the end of the century.
It’s a finding not lost on youth climate strikers like Schroeder. “Every fraction of a degree matters. The climate crisis does not allow for a moderate” approach, she said. “Nothing about what is headed our way will be moderate.”
That’s it this week for Today’s Climate. Thanks for reading, and I’ll be back in your inbox on Tuesday.
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