On Friday 15th March, an estimated 1.6 million young people in more than 125 countries staged a school strike to protest against political inaction on climate change. The climate school strikes started in September 2018 and were inspired by Greta Thunberg; the Swedish activist who staged a three week solo protest outside her parliament in August 2018.
According to the UK Student Climate Network, the movement is asking governments to:
- declare a climate emergency and prioritise the environment in their policy agenda
- incorporate the environmental crisis in the national curriculum as a priority
- communicate the urgency of the crisis to the public in order to stimulate personal action
- incorporate youth perspectives in decision-making and reduce the voting age to 16.
As organisers, the strikers have been immensely co-ordinated, deliberate and consistent about their demands, showing that young people bring more than ‘passion’ and ‘energy’ to decision-making. They have worked with the social norm (school students are expected to go to school) to devise a simple yet powerful advocacy tactic.
There have been some poignant moments since the climate school strikes, also known as #FridaysForFuture, started. The IPCC report on climate change released in October 2018, revealed frightening scenarios about our world in 2030 (only 11 years away) if we do not aggressively and radically act to transform the systems we have used to build our economies and societies.
Then there was the tweet below and Guardian article in January 2019 highlighting the hypocrisy of world leaders flying to the World Economic Forum on private jets, while Greta attended the same Forum via train. Flying is a major emitter of carbon which contributes to the planet’s warming climate.
Another moving moment has been the difficulty activists in Uganda have faced when trying to protest. They have had their protests disrupted by police action intended to restrict their ability to organise. Their plight shows that a forward looking movement such #FridaysForFuture is still grounded in local political realities. Their right to organise can be easily repressed and judging by the lack of media coverage, their injustice does not seem ‘newsworthy’ enough to cover.
The #FridaysForFuture movement have infused a tone of urgency in the global discourse on climate change and highlighted that political leadership is still lacking, despite the Paris Agreement on Climate Change which world leaders agreed, in 2015, to act on climate change.
Their use of urgency in their communications and demands show the power of urgency as an advocacy tactic to:
- mobilise different groups around a common agenda/outcome
- stimulate action
- encourage people to think about tangible, practical and immediate actions they can take. This helps to overcome the inaction that comes with addressing complex, public issues.
The result? Millions of people in more than 125 countries self-organising around the same goal, consistently, for seven months.
Urgency is most efficient when it is used as a short-term advocacy tactic. It is not a strategy for long-term change because it mobilises various groups of people around a common goal but does not reconcile their varied motivations for achieving that goal. Reconciling varied interests requires consensus building, dialogue and negotiation about the political choices we are willing to make, at the personal and collective level, to save our future. And some of these choices will be extremely uncomfortable and worth it.
What we as allies of the movement can do next is to support the demands of the climate strikers by starting to lay the foundations for the work of consensus building and dialogue on environmental action. We can start (or continue to) reach out and build partnerships with other actors who are willing to take calculated risks to shift incentives around the key drivers of environmental action and degradation. We can push back on communications tactics and discourses that employ scarcity and divisive rhetoric because this weakens the likelihood of us acting collectively. We can source and apply methodologies and skills that support collaboration and co-creation across ideological and sectoral divides. And we can seek to let go of practices that stop us from working with people we have been traditionally programmed to position as our opponent. We can work with media outlets and influencers to spotlight the work of existing environmental solutions that reflect the sustainable and just world we want.
Our future is not all gloom and doom. There are people, like Donella Meadows and Berta Cáceres and Wangari Maathai, who have worked for decades to build positive visions of the world. Let’s look to them and learn from them.
If you want to find out more, check out:
- #FridaysForFuture website: https://www.fridaysforfuture.org/about
- The IPCC report on climate change: Summary for Policy Makers: https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/ . Read this and ask the political leaders representing you what they are doing!
- What system change actually means and what it looks like in the context of environmental change: http://theconversation.com/climate-strikes-greta-thunberg-calls-for-system-change-not-climate-change-heres-what-that-could-look-like-112891