350.org co-founder Bill McKibben estimates that on September 20, about 4 million people took part in roughly 2500 Climate Strikes in more than 163 countries on seven continents. That is a phenomenal success for an emerging school student-led protest movement that only started last year.
The genius of the protest was the students’ bold call to take strike action — on a work day — in a time of fake news and cynicism about the power of mass mobilisation.
Not since the 2003 Iraq war had a protest on this scale been organised, and never by primary and secondary students.
In her latest book, On Fire, Canadian author Naomi Klein lays out the sobering reasons why so many took to the streets:
- The planet has warmed by about 1oC since coal began being burned on an industrial scale;
- average temperatures are on track to rise by as much as four times that amount before the end of the century; and
- the last time there was this much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, humans did not exist.
There is also another simple fact: the climate crisis is affecting everyone.
Fires are now burning in places they never have; cyclones, droughts and temperature extremes have become the norm; the Arctic is melting; seas are rising; and up to 2000 species are becoming extinct each year.
People’s lived experience makes it harder for the climate deniers congregated in government and their minions in the media to peddle their lies.
Perhaps that is why they reached peak hysteria the day after the strike.
Radio shock jock Alan Jones declared the politics of climate change has become “poisonous” and furiously agreed with a caller who said young people’s minds are being manipulated by Nazi-style propaganda.
Jones also invited discredited British climate denier Christopher Monckton onto his show to claim, without evidence, “the science [on climate change] is collapsing in all directions”.
The climate deniers’ crusade will fall flat because the young strike organisers are not naïve: they have been blooded on fake news, having had to wade through it on every medium, each day of their lives.
The strikers may not, however, be as prepared for the feting that flood them, including from sections of the establishment that have suddenly developed a keen interest in appearing to be concerned about the climate crisis while suggesting compromise.
But the student strikers’ appeal is their refusal to compromise on what needs to happen now: no new fossil fuels, 100% renewables and funding for a just transition to sustainable jobs for workers and communities reliant on the fossil fuel industry.
We at Green Left Weekly hope students call another strike — and soon. Only with sustained strike actions that build over time will humanity be in a position to challenge the institutional power of the fossil fuel industry and their friends in government.
Ultimately, for a just and climate-safe future, we have to change the system. GLW’s mission is to help build movements capable of doing that.
We want to expand the number of activist journalists sending us frontline reports. If you want to contribute, get in touch at email@example.com.