Op-ed: The complexities of the Climate Strike

Marie Senescall, contributor

A youth-led community protest against climate change brought nearly 7,000 people to Boston City Hall Plaza Friday, Sept. 20, joining over 7.6 million protesters around the world. Students of all ages, including some from Northeastern, gathered with other climate advocates at the Boston Climate Strike to demand immediate action from local and global governments. The event coincided with the United Nations Climate Action Summit, which began Sept. 23. The summit aimed to persuade world leaders to enact policies to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent in the next 10 years and to absolute zero by 2050. Although the global climate strike drew millions of participants, its effectiveness in spurring actual policy change is difficult to predict.

The strike was a part of a larger worldwide movement, Fridays for Future, founded by 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg. Thunberg left school to strike for stronger government action against climate change at age 15, alone, outside of the Riksdag in Stockholm, Sweden. Within half a year, over one million students joined her — and the numbers continue to grow. Fridays for Future invites students around the world to strike each week for policy change however they can. 

One complexity of the climate strike lies in its famous founder and her counterparts. Greta Thunberg has become a household name, but many other young climate activists have not received the same spotlight. Despite fighting the same fight as Thunberg, girls of color are not as heavily featured in the media. 15-year-old Autumn Peltier, an indigenous Canadian clean water activist, has advocated for her community on an international scale for years. Her speeches to local governments and global organizations bring attention to the sacredness and importance of access to clean water and demand a more sustainable world. It is important to recognize her contributions alongside Thunberg’s, as well as those of other young climate activists including Mari Copeny, Artemisa Xakriabá and Ridhima Pandey.

Another complexity of the climate strike is its conflicting undertones. Amidst the Boston strike, there was a stark contrast between laughing youths taking pictures and holding signs and the dark messages written to their government officials: “What’s the point of education if you don’t listen to the educated?”, “You’ll die of old age, I’ll die of climate change,” or a simple clock labeled “10 years.” With these insinuations of fast-approaching disaster, are we in a place to be so seemingly hopeful about the outcome of protests like this one? Are officials listening and ready to change their policies? How effective was the climate strike?

There’s no doubt that Thunberg’s worldwide protest brought people together in groundbreaking solidarity and spread a powerful call to action. However, what will stop the CEO of an oil corporation from simply closing their blinds to the shouts of the youth to save money? Admittedly, there’s no manual for solving the changing climate. No one has ever been in our shoes before, and everyone is guessing at how to proceed. There are many approaches that strive for a sustainable future and reduce the negative effects of climate change. Above all, though, as argued by the global climate strike, there must be a sense of urgency.

The strike didn’t result in immediate policy change or solutions, but the mass movement of students into the streets is an unignorable protest that simply claims the right to a livable future. The smiles of the young advocates can be seen as an argument for hope in the face of crisis: a belief that if enough people mobilize, the world will have to change in response.

Peltier and Thunberg certainly testify to the power of young people over the individual profiteer or policy maker. Referencing Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in her Sept. 28 speech to the U.N., Autumn Peltier stated that “as a youth, I will hold him or any future leader to the promise [of water protection] for my people.” Greta Thunberg preceded her at the U.N. on Sept. 23, declaring that “the world is waking up, and change is coming whether you like it or not.” These girls are not relying on the inclinations of power-wielding individuals towards change, but on the strength of the people, the youth, as a whole. This hopeful stance argues for the effectiveness of the Global Climate Strike in the fight to save the earth.

Marie Senescall is a first-year biology and English combined major.