Youth Strike 4 Climate: ‘We are challenging the systemic exclusion of young people from climate dialogue’

by Charlotte England

Thousands of students are expected to walk out of school at 11am today in an unprecedented youth action against climate crisis.

Strikes are taking place in at least 60 towns and cities across the country and take inspiration from similar successful actions in Australia, Belgium, Switzerland and Germany.

Organised by the UK Student Climate Network (UKSCN), the protest demands the government declares a climate emergency, takes active steps to achieve climate justice and communicates the severity of the crisis to the general public.

Students also want the national curriculum to be reformed to address the “ecological crisis as an educational priority” and for the voting age to be lowered to 16 to recognise that “young people have the biggest stake in our future”.

We spoke to one of the organisers, 15-year-old Devon student George Bond, to find out more about how the action was coordinated and why he’s on strike.

Who are you and why are you organising a climate strike?

Youth Strike 4 Climate was born when 17-year-old Anna Taylor, who now leads the UKSCN, attended the COP24 march and, together with a group of other young people, decided to follow in the footsteps of the Australian and Belgian climate strikers as nothing of this type was happening in the UK.

I became involved in UKSCN in January through a friend. Since then the movement has suddenly taken off. We built the website in a week and I found myself part of an essential and critically relevant movement. I’ve joined a network of students across the country who are sparking debate and dialogue around climate change, which is integral given the urgency of the situation we find ourselves in.

Our movement has been labelled all sorts of things, but in reality we are dedicated students across the UK all with a common goal: securing a future to look forward to. Sure we’re getting support from some mums and campaigners, but we’re organising ourselves, as young people, like our lives depend on it.

Why is it important that this is a youth action?

We face an imminent and devastating ecological crisis that’s the sole product of inaction and greed. As students and young people we are taking the issue into our own hands and demanding we are allowed to lead the fight against this crisis due to its direct impact on us now and in the future.

We’ve been continually let down by those in power over the last few decades, so we’re showing them what young passion for this world looks like. The diverse and informed voices of our student movement speak volumes to the urgency of this situation

Where is the strike taking place?

Interest in Youth Strike 4 Climate has ballooned over the last few weeks, which means that we now have over 50 towns and cities across the UK participating. A full list can be found here

How have you organised to get so many people on strike?

We don’t operate an official organisational structure and instead work based on the input of all voices and ensure that it’s always young people’s voices that are front and centre. While slightly chaotic, our WhatsApp group chats are the basis of our productivity, alongside Zoom calls to link up with other students around the UK..

Why now?

We have less than 12 years to halve CO2 emissions according to last year’s IPCC 1.5 degree report, and even then we we would see devastation of vital elements of the natural world. Analogous to this is the rapid and symbolic mobilisation of student movements across the world. People are beginning to wake up to the systemic and perpetual exclusion of young people from the climate dialogue and realising the damage it is doing. We must incorporate intergenerational justice within climate policy.

Have you seen support from schools?

Many schools have endorsed the strikes as a pivotal action by students to peacefully disrupt the status quo. Some see us as empowering ourselves to challenge the primarily adult run arena of decision-making that has brought about the climate crisis in the first place. We applaud these schools for recognising that this learning experience transcends classrooms and facilitates broad and valuable experience.

And have you faced any opposition from schools?

Some institutions have not been so encouraging in their attitude towards the strikes. However, it’s imperative that we don’t reign in our actions because of the opposition of a few educational establishments. Every day we’re receiving glowing endorsements from new sources and despite the historic betrayal of young people with regards to climate change, it is never too late to begin taking action.

How have families reacted?

We’ve witnessed widespread support from families with whom our mission resonates and they’ve been incredibly encouraging. There’s a strong feeling that by supporting young people to take action and demand change, we can bring about effective and sustainable reform.

Have there been any other challenges that you didn’t expect when organising this strike?

One thing that I wasn’t really expecting was the huge level of press attention we’ve received in such a short amount of time. Our upcoming strike has highlighted our cause which has resulted in huge amounts of TV, radio, digital, and print exposure.

However, [although this has been difficult to manage] it does mean the media is now talking about climate change in an urgent way. I find it profoundly affirming to know that we have sparked such a wide and intense dialogue in the country.

Is the strike a success? Are many people taking part?

In many respects, the strike has already been successful. Through the engagement of students and young people, we have created a thriving student climate movement and I’m certain the strike today will only strengthen our resolve to continue applying pressure for urgent and immediate climate action.

Where next for climate strikes in your opinion? Is this a tactic that should be used more broadly?

The act of striking is not only unifying but also continues to ignite conversation. Plans are already in the pipeline to make future actions more globally connected, by collaborating with strikers from around the world on 15th March. We hope this will be even more wide-reaching and that making such a bold statement, as a unified global voice, will help to add weight to and further amplify our message.

Us taking a stand like we are is a really positive way of trying to engage those in power. We’re disrupting the status quo and I’m not sure governments and schools know what to do about it.

We’ve recently seen mass-scale direct actions on climate change organised by Extinction Rebellion. Are there parallels between you and them? Any big differences in ideology or tactics?

Even though the Youth Strike 4 Climate movement is its own entity, run by young people, for young people, collaboration is key to our strategy. We receive some advice and support from a range of organisations which has occasionally included Extinction Rebellion. We very much think the climate movement is stronger together, than many individual voices. Ultimately, the issue of the imminent climate crisis is growing more urgent everyday, and by adopting a collective attitude, we can improve the effectiveness of our actions. We maintain an open outlook on what tactics we will use in the future but undoubtedly the strike is central to our current work.

How do you want people to see your strike?

As students we shouldn’t be viewed as playing truant or involving ourselves in issues above us; instead we must be recognised for the empowered, educated and effective force that we’re becoming. This first strike should be seen as a symbol of our mission but equally only forms the start of a progressive future.

What is the change you want to effect?

A full list of our demands can be found here but the overarching reforms we want to see implemented are those that take immediate steps to swiftly cut our greenhouse gas emissions through legislation and incentivisation, and we require that students are engaged and listened to for their valuable input to negate the most devastating effects of the crisis that draws closer.

Published 15th February 2019

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