Youth-led climate change movements around the world have marked the year 2019 and shaped a new public opinion about the critical environmental state of the planet. Why collective behavior is so important to provoke powerful changes and how can you get involved if you have not yet?

 

Background

From the Civil Rights movement led by Martin Luther King and Malcom X to the Women’s Rights to vote movement with Emmeline Pankhurst, who organised demonstrations in protest of the British government’s failure to give women the right to vote; social movements have shaped the world we live in.

Climate Change strikes is now part of the list of important movements that promoted social, cultural and political change. Huge differences separate the 2019 Climate Change movements from yesterday’s. However, they may prove united by the intensity and magnitude of the changes they impose. As almost every social movement throughout history is attributed to a leader, climate movement is no exception to the rule.

Greta Thunberg is a Swedish school student who started protesting every Friday in front of the Swedish parliament building in 2018 assuring to continue until the Swedish government met the carbon emissions target agreed by the world leaders during the 2015 COP21 in Paris.

Her protests went viral on social media and as a support for her cause, different strikes started around the world with the hashtag #FridaysForFuture. The movement soon became global and gathered not only students but parents, trade unions, businesses, health workers, scientists, celebrities and people of all backgrounds, ages, regions and faiths. In November 2018, already 17,000 students around the world had taken part of the Friday strikes and the number hit 2 million strikers in March 2019. The movement reached its apogee in September 2019, also known as the Global Week for Future, reuniting 6 million people. 

In the United Kingdom, around two hundred events were organised across the country by the UK Student Climate Network (UKSCN) on the 20th of September. The UKSCN was calling its government to support the “Green New Deal”, a US congressional resolution plan aiming to tackle climate change and reduce the voting age from 18 to 16. Roughly 300,000 people have participated across the UK. At a total of over 7.6 million protestors, the week of Global Climate Strikes is on par with the 2003 anti-Iraq war protests as one of the largest coordinated global protests in History.

The week of Global climate strikes:
some numbers

7.6 Million Protestors

During the week of Global Climate Strikes, supported by 73 Trade Unions, 820 Civil Society Organisations.

6,100 Events

Held across 185 countries, supported by 3,000 companies and more than 8,500 websites across the world.

Why are protests important?

 

Striking for the environment and the people

Since the industrial age, our planet entered an ecological crisis mostly caused by human activities. The scientific community has warned politicians and the public about the warming effects of the greenhouse gases on Earth and its ecosystem. According to a report from the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) and the Zoological Society of London, the past four decades have seen the decline of 60 percent of the global wildlife population.

Climate Change is a concern for every inhabitant of Earth, us included. Several populations around the world are suffering the first and the worst, especially in the poorest areas. In 2016, extreme weather disasters displaced around 23.5 million people, without including people compelled to flee their homes because of droughts, sea level rises or melting permafrost. Bangladesh is the perfect example of these terrible consequences. By 2050, one in seven people will be displaced by Climate Change due to sea level rises, storms, droughts, erosion, landslides or flooding.

Striking to change minds and opinions

The climate strikes have turned the world’s gaze towards the problem of climate change and environmental concerns. They matter as they can influence the public opinion and raise common consciousness about the urgency of the planet’s situation. A study found that striking can promote the psychological factors for fighting against climate change.

The study highlights factors influencing the individual’s willingness to act: affect is translated by the level of unpleasantness climate change is to a person; mitigation response inefficacy suggests that we cannot have an impact on climate change mitigation and social norms represents the degree to which people important to you are acting on climate change and the degree to which you think people expect you to behave on climate change. Another study has emphasized the direct and indirect effects of public opinion on policy (less government subsidies, environmental projects, and environmental governance) and highlights a positive correlation between environmental movements and policies.

Striking to make a difference on a global level

Social movements are important because they are a catalyst for a renewed focus on climate policy and hold the elected officials accountable. As Lilly Gardner –a young organiser of the Sunrise Movement– explains that Presidential candidates are opening their remarks at debates on television with mention of the climate crisis public pronouncements. There is an integration of the climate crisis into people’s consciousness.

Striking express a common sentiment and causes a disruption to the system. By imposing economic and political costs, this disruption pressured firms. Strikers have leverage when they absent from work, troubling economic activities and therefore, drawing attention to the intended issue.

Thanks to the actions led by the group Extinction Rebellion, the United Kingdom and 1,100 jurisdictions have declared a climate emergency followed later by other countries like Austria, Spain or Argentina.

How can you get involved?

Join the other strikers

Participating in school strikes would be an effective and encouraging start. By attending the strike, you will increase the effectiveness of the strike for you and the others around you. You can also encourage your relatives to go with you. Friday For Future Map is a useful tool if you want to consult where and when climate strikes are happening near you. The map inventories strike in 130 countries and thousands of different locations.

However, due to the COVID-19 current situation, social distancing is preventing the strikers to take the streets. The UKSCN website provides a general COVID-19 update. Tactics have been changed and protests have been moved online.

The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) has posted a webinar discussing the advantages and inconvenient of moving activism to the digital space, the discussion is available on their website. The NGO 350.org listed several alternatives for those who would like to make their voice heard in this time of crisis including virtual protests, reaching out people to sign online actions or posting comments about the climate crisis on target’s social media profiles.

Educate others and yourself

Respectful communication is the key to open consciousness and bring more people to the climate change cause. In the case you are new to the whole topic, you can start to learn more by doing some research about climate science, justice and action. 350.org proposes online courses about climate change to get you skilled.

You can start simple by reading news in the section “Climate” or “Environment” of newspapers or watch videos and documentaries. The YouTube channel Our Changing Climate produced videos about specific and interesting climate change/environmental topics such as fast fashion, zero waste or greenwashing.

Support Climate activists on social media, be active online

Internet is a wonderful tool if you want to help the community and get involved at your scale. You could start by following climate activists on Twitter or Instagram to support them (see below). The website Climate Strike gives you the opportunity to propose ideas for actions and either join an existing climate campaign or organize your own. You can also sign up to the UKSCN website in order to receive information on volunteering, striking or donating.

support climate activists

Jerome Foster

Lily Gardner

Anuna De Wever

Jamie Margolin

Luisa Neubauer

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