Why are Teenagers Leading the Way on Climate Change?

As the movement goes global, the leaders of tomorrow say they want politicians to protect their future.

Mar 14, 2019


Why are Teenagers Leading the Way on Climate Change? | As the movement goes global, the leaders of tomorrow say they want politicians to protect their future.

“And the youth shall lead them.” This simple yet powerful sentence has its origins in biblical times and was coined by the prophet Isaiah. That's certainly the case in the grassroots, youth-led climate change activists who want their voices heard.

The feeling that their voices and concerns are not being paid attention to by elected officials is what has driven tens of thousands of teens and tweens into the streets around the world.

I’m unable to vote, and this is going to be the biggest issue that’s going to affect me in my entire life,” 17-year old Lottie Tellyn from Hampshire, UK told Climate Change News (CCN).

The movement's founder is 16-year old Greta Thunberg from Sweden. She became the pig-tailed face of the youth movement when she began to skip school in August 2018 to protest government inaction on climate change. She started with a three-week long strike – and then she decided to strike every Friday – sitting in front of the parliament in Stockholm to demand that the government meet its Paris Agreement goals.

Her solo protest attracted the attention of journalists and today at least 200 young people join her every week. She has addressed the UN climate conferences and has called out world leaders for not doing enough to avert a climate disaster.

Thunberg, who has Asperger's syndrome, has frequently said that her condition has led her to view the world in black and white; there are no shades of grey. This makes it easier for her to draw the line in the sand about climate change.

“Either we prevent 1.5C of warming or we don’t,” she told World Economic Forum (WEF) at the Davos Summit when she addressed them in January “Either we choose to go on as a civilization or we don’t. There are no grey areas when it comes to survival.”

"It really spoke to me,” 14-year old Zoe Bonnet from Bristol, UK, told CCN about a video of Thunberg she saw in January. “I was like: ‘What?! She’s only 15 or whatever. How can this be? Maybe I could also do something a bit like that.”

Bonnet believes that most of her generation feels that way. She told CCN, “For young people it’s much easier to see things in black and white. Either we save the world and we stop the climate crisis, or we don’t. Seeing how slowly everything moves in politics, you think: ‘If not us, who?'”

Thunberg's activism inspired the Fridays for Future (F4F) student-led popular movement for school strikes on Fridays –Thursdays in Belgium – that is going global. In Belgium, 30,000 students protested on February 7. In Germany the next day, students protested in 35 cities. In the UK, more than 100,000 students went on a UK-wide strike on February 15.

Anna Taylor, 17, from north London, UK, told The Guardian: “The rapid growth of the movement is showing how important it is and how much young people care. It is vital for our future.”

Now, F4F has issued an uncompromising letter, that is posted in the organizations Facebook page, stating that We, the young, have started to move. We are going to change the fate of humanity, whether you like it or not. United we will rise until we see climate justice.”

These young people who have never known a life not affected by climate change refuse to be voiceless. The letter called for a March 15 protest on every continent saying: "Thousands of us have taken to the streets in the past weeks all around the world. Now we will make our voices heard."

The youth strikes are not a centrally organized movement so it is difficult to know where the protests will take place and how many young people will be participating. Events can be listed on the F4F website and so far, there are almost 500 events listed in 51 countries making it the largest strike day yet.

”Janine O’Keefe, from F4F, said: “I’ll be very happy with over 100,000 students striking on 15 March. But I think we might reach even beyond 500,000 students.”

Educational authorities, and many parents are against the students missing school to strike but the youth say they don't see the value of education if they have no future. The strike leaders have announced that the school strikes will only stop when there is a clear outline from politicians on how to solve the climate change crisis.

Students in the US will be joining the March 15 strike but many have already staked a claim for action against their government's inaction about climate change.  In 2015, 21 teens and tweens across the country sued the government over climate change.

The case called Juliana v. US argued that by adopting policies that promote fossil fuel use at rates that cause climate change, the federal government violated the youngest generations' constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property and failed to protect resources held in trust for the future.

World youth is serious that their future is being destroyed by government inaction or under-action and they want politicians to do something about it. They are not just giving lip service; they are willing to take leadership roles in the fight against climate change. If the world leaders will not act - just like the biblical prophecy - the youth will lead them.

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Bonnie has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.