Today, September 20th 2019, millions of people in an estimated 126 countries will take to the streets, to participate in a Global Climate Strike, that has been called for by young people, and led and inspired by a 16 year-old, Greta Thunburg.
It seems that activists are once more leading the world towards a tipping-point in addressing a threat to our future humanity.
For example, according to a report yesterday in the Guardian, a survey in eight countries (the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Italy, Brazil, France, Poland and the United States) “found that climate breakdown is viewed as the most important issue facing the world, ahead of migration, terrorism and the global economy, in seven out of the eight countries surveyed. In the US it comes third behind terrorism and affordable healthcare.”
On another front, the wave to divest from the fossil fuel industry is moving from an incremental to an exponential phase. In the days before a conference on divestment in Cape Town, the NGO 350.org released a report revealing that : “the international commitments to move money out of fossil fuel companies and invest in low-carbon climate-friendly solutions had reached a total in pledged assets of U$11-trillion. An increase of 22,000% in five years, up from U$52-billion in 2014.”
Although we still have an Everest to climb, with terrifying crevasses and storms to work our way through, these developments give us reason for hope. They are not reason to slow down but to speed up activism to seize the moment.
This week, I attended a small conference of activists from across the globe, under the theme ‘power of law, power of people’. The conference was about how best to use the law to advance social justice. But a constant backdrop to the discussions was a fear that climate change is changing everything, and that means activists too have to change our game.
One of those present was Farhana Yamin, a distinguished lawyer and one of the recognised leaders of the Extinction Rebellion (XR) in the UK. Yamin has been on the legal front-line of negotiations around the climate crisis for over a decade, representing small islands, negotiating the text of climate treaties. But Yamin believes that law must now play second fiddle to political mobilisation. Thus in XR she initially led its political strategy forum rather than working on law.
Consequently she has fully endorsed civil disobedience, and been party to returning to strategies used a century ago by the suffragettes. Except instead of chaining herself to railings, she super-glued her hands to the head office of Shell. An article in Nature in which she describes her choices is currently zipping around the internet drawing widespread acclaim and inspiring new radicals and people ready to break laws that are protecting industries causing the climate catastrophe.
The “climate criminals”.
Also attending the conference was 14 year-old David Wicker, one of the leaders of the Fridays for the Future (FFF) movement in Italy. Wicker, a fresh faced and innocent boy, with a lovely smile, started by telling us how “what moved me to act was fear.”
He comes from Turin in northern Italy which, he informs us, is one of Europe’s most polluted cities, a city where this summer temperatures reached 43 degrees centigrade. “People died because it was so hot.” Turin is only a short distance from the Alps, a mountain range where once there were glaciers, glaciers which he now sees shrinking, melting, evaporating ….
For him, this has made the climate crisis real and personal.
So, since January Wicker 2019 has been part of the Fridays for Future, where children all over the world are striking by boycotting school every Friday.
According to Wicker: “The first week we had four strikers, the next week three, and then there were 20. But two months later, on 15 March, (the day of an international youth strike to act on climate change), 470,000 people turned out for demonstrations.” That day, he says, we were expecting 500 people in Turin, but after the march started “we couldn’t see the end of it there were so many people.”
The movement that he started after contacting another youngster who he saw protesting climate change on Instagram has “snowballed.” He says he has no idea how! But since then it has grown, and grown and grown … today FFF has 160 local groups across Italy; it is connected to a global youth movement in 126 countries. Most of its leaders refuse to add to the carbon crisis by using aeroplanes so instead they are connected and talking on Telegram (“WhatsApp is too small whereas Telegram allows up to 200,000 people in a group), use trains or buses to travel between countries and – in the case of Thunburg –cross continents by sea.
In Italy FFF has engaged with adults, scientists, teachers and parents. It has led to 15 cities and two regions declaring climate emergencies, although the national government continues to hold out.
Wicker admits that it has exploded beyond their wildest imagination. But, he says “the emergency is here so we accept the need to work fast and work the best we can.” The price? He has sacrificed his hobbies – photography and playing the piano – because he “doesn’t know what the future will look like for young people.”
But, he admits, “it’s fun”.
This morning, as you read this, 14 year-old Wicker and 54 year-old Yamin will both be in Turin for a demonstration to mark the start of a week of global action where each day young people and their allies will focus on a different aspect of climate heating with the aim of mobilising awareness of the extent of the crisis the world faces.
They will be on their feet. Will you be on yours? The question you should ask yourself this morning is whether today you are going to take a stand on the right side of justice? Will you take the world into your own hands? Will you be part of a massive manifestation of people’s power across races, genders, classes, continents and countries.
Or will you be a bystander on your children’s future?
We have a chance to change the world.
The choice is yours. MC