this is the only way for our voices to be heard
Anna Taylor, co-founder of the UK Students Climate Network, on why today's global climate strike is crucial.
Photography by Ivan Ruberto
Last year, my life changed. I had always been concerned about climate change, but last year was when that turned into something much bigger. Like so many people all over the world I saw a video of Greta, the Swedish 16-year-old who has been striking for the climate for many months, sitting outside her Parliament in sometimes freezing temperatures every Friday. That video and her story have now spread all over the world, and today we expect young people in over 90 countries to walk out of schools and universities.
"We've grown up in the knowledge that our home is on the brink of an irreversible catastrophe, and we're the last generation to be able to stop it."
This is a massive youth-led movement, by those who really believe that we can change things. When I saw the tens of thousands of students striking across the world, from Australia to Belgium, I realised that simply being vegan, using as little plastic as possible and trying to drastically limit fuel consumption was not on its own sufficient to save an entire planet: I had to do something more. If this was going to be a global movement, young people in the UK needed to be involved in it. So I set up UK Student Climate Network with some friends who also felt dissatisfied with the lack of action. Our main aim was to encourage the youth of the UK to become involved in environmental action, including nation-wide youth strikes. We know that the UN climate report of 2018 gives us 12 years to cut emissions by 50% to avoid catastrophe, and this is the first generation to fully recognise and act upon the urgency conveyed by climate scientists. We've grown up in the knowledge that our home is on the brink of an irreversible catastrophe, and we're the last generation to be able to stop it.
To be honest, we feel betrayed by both previous governments and the current government. We don’t want to just walk out of school to skip our education, we want our voices to be heard on this issue, which will be the defining issue for our generation and generations to come. What we are trying to do is hard and it takes a lot of work, but I really believe that young people are powerful and together our voices might really push the people in power to change. Right now, carbon emissions globally continue to rise, even after the Paris Agreement. Just 100 companies are responsible for over 70% of the greenhouse gas emissions on the planet. These statistics are known, they are discussed by scientists and politicians all the time, but companies and governments go on talking and talking without actually changing anything.
"What we know is that we are in an emergency and we need unprecedented global action."
What we know is that we are in a state of emergency and we need unprecedented global action. What we are asking from the UK government is four demands. Firstly, we want the government to declare a climate emergency and prioritise the protection of life on Earth, taking active steps to achieve climate justice. We want to see the national curriculum reformed to address the ecological crisis as an educational priority. We know that our textbooks are not giving the climate crisis the attention it deserves, and that has to change. We also want that education and communication to be much more widespread, with the government ensuring that they properly communicate the severity of the ecological crisis and the necessity to act now to the general public. And we want more of a say in all of this. Young people are passionate, educated and powerful and the government needs to recognise that we are the ones who have the biggest stake in our future. They can do this by incorporating youth views into policy-making and bringing the voting age down to 16.
We’ve now been organising for a few months and it’s been incredible to see the huge number of people who are striking. Last month we saw over 15,000 young people in the UK strike in 60 locations. This time we are expecting many more, with strikes being organised in over 100 locations all over the UK and Ireland. We mainly organise online and in WhatsApp chats. It’s hard to fit all of this in around our school work but everybody involved works together to make it happen, which is really inspiring to be a part of. I’ve been speaking to students from all over the world which is incredibly inspiring, and this week I was in Strasbourg with student strikers from all over Europe to put pressure on European politicians.
Even though this is a crisis, the way this youth-led movement is growing so fast and speaking our truth so powerfully is giving me hope. Hope that we can force those in power to start changing their ways. Hope that we still have time to do something to prevent catastrophic climate change and start to protect the millions of lives it is already impacting worldwide. And hope that there are enough of us, all over the world, who can stand against powerful interests who want to stop change from happening. They might think we are just snowflakes but as we keep saying, a million snowflakes create a blizzard.