As I am writing this piece, Greta Thunberg is sailing across the Atlantic Ocean to New York, where she is due to attend UN Climate talks before touring South America. If her name isn’t familiar to you, you will likely have heard about school children going on strike – in Ireland and across the globe – to demand climate action from their government. The Swedish teen climate activist is the instigator and inspiration behind this worldwide movement which began just a year ago today. Since then, her name and her fight have crossed oceans and borders, just like Malizia II, the zero-carbon yacht that is currently taking her to the United States.

It all started on August 20th 2018. Greta Thunberg, fed up with her country’s inaction to reduce their impact on climate change, sat in front of Sweden’s parliament building, the Riksdag. She posted to Instagram and Twitter a picture of herself sitting by a simple sign reading “Skolstrejk för Klimatet”: ‘School Strike for Climate’ in English; ‘Stailc Scoile don Aeráid’ as Gaeilge.

The plan was to skip school until the general election on September 9th, to draw media attention to the Swedish government’s inaction on climate change. After the election, Thunberg returned to school. But with the success of her demonstration, she continued to strike every Friday. Soon her concept spread over the world, and with hashtags #FridaysforFuture and #ClimateStrike, encouraged  and inspired students and adults across the world to follow suit and make single demonstrations or set up local and national grassroots groups to pressure their own governments to take meaningful action. If you’re not convinced of the importance of this movement, a simple google of ‘climate action youth’ will demonstrate the volume of young voices calling for change for the sake of their own futures (as does ‘The Greta Thunberg Effect’).

And over the past year, the young activist has attended and spoken to thousands of people, from world leaders to local school children across Europe… All while travelling with a low-carbon footprint, completely avoiding air travel. Speaking to French news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP), Thunberg noted how ‘absurd’ it is that she has to sail in order to travel with no emissions, stating “It just shows how impossible it is to live sustainably today”.

If you google ‘climate action group’ followed by the name of your country or state (or even town), you might be surprised by what’s happening around the corner from you: what groups exist and what they are organising, from demonstrations to art installations to lobbying local councils and governments. In Ireland, numerous student-led groups support students in organising school strikes and protests, such as the Irish branch of the transnational Fridays for Future (FFF) movement, and Schools Climate Action Network (SCAN). In the past year, these groups have staged direct actions, protests, and have done policy development and community engagement. 

The most memorable events to date were when thousands of Irish students joined the world in the first and second Global Climate Strikes led by Greta Thunberg on Friday 15th March and 24th May 2019. The latter saw approximately 1,400 marches in more than 120 countries, reaching an estimated 1.6 million participants, all demanding government action on climate change. While Ireland was the second country in the world to declare a ‘climate and biodiversity emergency’ on 9th May, recent research by Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe shows Ireland is the second-worst EU country on climate change action. And since the emergency declaration, activists have denounced government actions as counter to their emergency declaration, such as granting consent for oil and gas exploration off the coast of Kerry on May 27th and blocking the Climate Emergency Bill on 5th July, which would have banned oil and gas exploration in Irish waters.

Students will have to continue the fight for the next 16 months, as those are set to be the most vital time for government decision-making, possibly a point-of-no-return. This follows the warning from one of the world’s top climate scientists, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, who stated in 2017: “The climate math is brutally clear: while the world can’t be healed within the next few years, it may be fatally wounded by negligence until 2020”. The urgency for action is why Greta announced in June her plans to take a sabbatical year from school to focus on making meaningful change happen by 2020.

While the teen did what could seem as the impossible in less than a year (mobilising millions of young people on climate change globally), Greta Thunberg is still regarded by some politicians as a fear-mongering child. On the other hand, the Swedish climate activist has also received recognition, the most significant to date being her nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in March 2019. 

Her next Global Strike for Climate, which will take place from September 20th to 27th across the world, will certainly be an indication of the rising strength of this youth movement.

And you, would you go on the mitch to change the world?

Photo: Anders Hellberg, Wiki Commons

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