CCL youth join March 15 school strike for climate

CCL volunteers climate strike

Rebecca Hamilton, pictured here being interviewed by CBC Vancouver, is a CCL volunteer participating in the School Strike for Climate.

CCL youth join March 15 school strike for climate

By Pam Shaouy

Even if you’re not sure who she is, you’ve probably seen her face and Skolstrejk för Klimatet sign.

Cathy Orlando Greta Thunberg climate strike

CCL’s Cathy Orlando met Greta Thunberg at COP24 last fall.

She’s 16-year-old Swedish student Greta Thunberg, and she understands the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions. She knows if we don’t heed the advice of scientists and rapidly lower emissions by 2030, her generation will grow up with the catastrophic consequences of a severely disrupted climate. In Sweden, emissions are increasing. And globally, they reached a record high in 2018.

After last summer’s historic heatwave and raging wildfires as far north as Sweden’s Arctic Circle, a frustrated Thunberg wanted her government to take swift, effective climate action. Unable to vote, the self-described quiet introvert wanted to make her voice heard. So last August, then 15-year-old Thunberg spent a school day sitting alone on the steps of the parliament building in Stockholm. She held a homemade sign announcing her Skolstrejk för Klimatet, or School Strike for Climate.

Striking a chord

Thunberg’s frustration resonated so deeply with young people everywhere that she inadvertently kicked off and became the leader of the global #FridaysForFuture #ClimateStrike youth movement. Every Friday since last August, she and an increasing number of students across the globe skip school and strike, often at government buildings, to demand a safe climate. They know leaders aren’t doing enough, and their concerns and views are ignored.

On Friday, March 15, students are conducting a global mass strike that’s shaping up to be the largest student-led strike in history. In 1,325 locations across 98 countries and counting, they’ll be skipping school and striking to demand the climate crisis be treated as a crisis. They issued an open letter expressing their concerns. And scientists and scholars issued a statement supporting the students.

Skipping school in Canada

Cathy Orlando, Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) International Outreach Manager and Canadian Director, is struck by how her 11-year-old daughter, Sophia Mathur, glows at the end of a school strike day.

Sophia Mathur climate strike

Sophie Mathur

“Actions are really healing,” Orlando reflects. “These kids have life-and-death adult concerns about their future. Strike days make Sophia feel listened to, and it shows.”

Last August, after seeing video about Thunberg, Mathur asked her mom if she could strike in solidarity. Orlando cautiously responded with, “Let’s think about it.”

As a CCL volunteer exposed to Canada’s increasingly severe storms and wildfires, Mathur already understood the urgency of the climate crisis. And it grew increasingly clear to Orlando that her daughter understood when leaders and adults weren’t listening to experts or doing enough to protect her future.

Mathur insisted she wanted to do more to build political will for climate action. After more research about Thunberg’s strikes, Mathur decided to join the movement. She started striking one Friday a month last November.

“What’s the point of going to school if I won’t have a future?” Mathur asks in a radio interview that features her and CCL Canada volunteers Dominique Deveaux, 18, and Rebecca Hamilton, 16. Dominique and Rebecca also strike one Friday a month.

By December, there were strikes in nine Canadian cities (and up to at least 13 today). Thunberg herself acknowledged Mathur’s and Canada’s efforts in a tweet!

Orlando makes it clear that environmental groups or parents themselves are not the ones encouraging the kids to strike. “The kids are calling the shots,” she explains. “They’ve galvanized social media to organize an entirely youth-led movement. It’s their voice and their hearts on the table. Yes, adults are in the background, but doing minimal necessities like taking care of legalities and safety concerns.”

She adds, “And the day isn’t just about skipping school or even just striking. In preparation for or on strike day, the kids may meet with politicians, scientists, professors, economists or other leaders. They’re getting educational experiences they can’t get in a classroom. They’re learning and growing spiritually, mentally and emotionally.”

George Heyman youth climate strike

Rebecca Hamilton (right) and fellow youth advocates meet with George Heyman, British Columbia’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy

Skipping school in the U.S.

Motivated by Thunberg, the U.S. Youth Climate Strike formed and joined her #FridaysForFuture #ClimateStrike movement. The group helps coordinate the March 15 U.S. strikes.

Co-founder and co-director Alexandria Villaseñor, 13, is a prominent face of the U.S. movement. She started her weekly climate strike in front of the United Nations Headquarters in New York City last December—despite rain, wind, snow and ice.

In Maryland, CCL volunteer Kallan Benson, 15, also started her strike last December. She emphasizes, “Our leaders have been playing with our future, and we won’t put up with it any longer.” Benson is also on a silent strike. She has no plans to speak until April 8, unless her state lawmakers pass comprehensive environmental legislation before then.

These are just a few examples of CCL youth joining the ever-growing movement around the world.

Kids are sounding the alarm

Dominique Deveaux youth climate strike

Dominique Deveaux (second from left) began as the only youth striker at his university back in December, and has seen the strike grow.

Some adults find the idea of skipping school for climate strikes extreme. Perhaps that’s due to a loss of a sense of urgency about the crisis. But it’s all today’s youth have ever known. They’ve watched the worst effects begin to unfold in their short lives. They’re worried, angry and sad that adults had decades to reduce carbon emissions, but instead, increased them. They can’t vote yet, so they’re taking what action they can to sound a worldwide alarm about the extreme consequences they face tomorrow if adults don’t act today.

Striking out onto the world stage

Thunberg now brings her demand for legislation to rapidly reduce carbon emissions to global events like the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP24), the World Economic Forum and more. She fearlessly dishes out tongue-lashings to world leaders about the crisis they let manifest and must now solve. On International Women’s Day, she was proclaimed the most important woman of the year in Sweden.

The quiet introvert turned climate hero continues to inspire students around the world. And the #FridaysForFuture #ClimateStrike movement continues to grow each week. Orlando suggests, “Be like Greta. Go make that one sign and go sit somewhere, once a week, once a month—whatever works for you. Invite politicians if they want to come, just be bipartisan.”

Everyone’s welcome on March 15

You don’t have to be a student to participate in the March 15 global strike. All supporters are welcome, so find a strike near you and join in. For those in the U.S., you can also back up this call for climate action with concrete support of the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act in Congress, a bipartisan bill to drive down America’s carbon pollution and bring climate change under control.

Pam Shaouy
As a child, Pam refused to let her parents cut down a maple tree, even though its roots were causing plumbing problems. Today, she's a semi-retired copy and scriptwriter with deep experience writing about IT solutions that help industries work smarter and more sustainably.