Part of: Youth action on climate change
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Biggest global climate mobilisation should inspire grown-ups

by May Boeve |
Wednesday, 20 March 2019 13:36 GMT

Students protest to demand action on climate change in Lisbon, Portugal, March 15, 2019. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

We are seeing a new generation of activists emerge, who are speaking courageously and demanding justice

On Friday I watched in awe as over 1.5 million young people from all over the world walked out of their classes as part of the School Strikes for Climate. As pictures poured in from around the globe, the numbers of people and countries joining just got bigger and bigger.

Little did I know waking up on Friday morning that this would end up being the largest global climate mobilisation ever. And I can’t help but get the feeling that these kids are just getting started.

Moments like this are a good opportunity for reflection. Millions of people don’t take to the street by accident, and it is a sign of how far our movement has come in this fight.

We are seeing a new generation of activists emerge – a generation who are owning their moral authority, speaking courageously and demanding justice.

As this generation realise their power, we are seeing the opening of new possibilities. The terrain of our politics has shifted. Things that felt impossible last week seem within reach today. That is the power of social movements.

Social movements make the impossible possible. They disrupt broken social orders, they spark human imagination, and they show us how powerful we really can be when we stand together. With climate science becoming increasingly urgent and apocalyptic, we need those sparks of hope and imagination more than ever.

As this new generation expands the horizons of possibility, it’s up to us to make sure those sparks of hope become wildfires of action.

As we look towards 2020, we know that the window for solving the climate crisis is closing. It’s time to recommit to do everything we can in this fight for a future. We all need to reflect on what more we can do to follow the lead of the youth who turned out for the school strikes.

They require us to step up and change the way we are acting in the world, in order to rethink the systems that are driving climate change. They require us to act like the young people who reached out to others and formed groups to mobilise together.


For some of us, that will mean writing letters, knocking on doors, raising our voices and using our bodies in nonviolent ways to stop the expansion of fossil fuel extraction - like so many communities have done to resist fracking in Latin America, the United States, and across Europe and Asia.

For others, we can make choices about where our money goes and ensure it doesn’t keep funding fossil fuel projects and companies that intend to profit from causing more climate change. We can actively shift our own investments, or our pension fund, or our church or university’s endowment away from the companies involved in extracting and burning coal, oil and gas. 

Just like the school strikes for climate, the fossil fuel divestment movement was kickstarted by young people, and it is also global. What started with college students in the U.S. has now reached over 1,025 asset managers on every continent who collectively are responsible for shifting portfolios valued at more than $8 trillion.

Have you asked your pension fund to make sure it is not investing in oil companies, some of which have known for decades that their product would cause climate change? Have you, like the young people taking to the streets, formed a small group of friends and colleagues and tried to shift a university, church or other endowment away from fossil fuel firm, which not only jeopardise the climate but whose business model ultimately compromises the well-being of local communities?

Because asking those questions of yourself, of your friends, of asset-managers is probably one of the better answers to the school strikers we adults could give.

So whether it’s using the momentum to vote for #1.5 as part of election campaign as climate activists in Australia are doing, raising awareness about the Green New Deal in the United States, accelerating the fight against fossil fuels and air pollution in India, or shutting off the money tap to coal power in Japan, it is our responsibility as adults to act with bravery and ambition.

In years to come, it will sound absurd when we try to explain to future generations that as the climate crisis deepened, the fossil fuel industry continued to expand and build new infrastructure - and that we let it happen. Let’s listen to these young people and let’s use our power, as the grown-ups in the room, to change things.