Two strikes were held on Sept. 20 and 27, as the UN emergency climate summit took place on Sept. 23. Madelaine Picard joined both the protests happening in Prince Rupert and plans to come back as often as she can for Fridays for Future. (Jenna Cocullo / The Northern View)

How youth protests shaped the discussion on climate change

Climate strikes are an example of youth becoming politicized and rejecting adult inaction

Greta Thunberg made history again this month when she was named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year. The 16-year-old has become the face of youth climate action, going from a lone child sitting outside the Swedish parliament building in mid-2018 to a symbol for climate strikers — young and old — around the world.

Thunberg was far from the first young person to speak up in an effort to hold the powerful accountable for their inaction on climate change, yet the recognition of her efforts come at a time when world leaders will have to decide whether — or with how much effort — they will tackle climate change. Their actions or inactions will determine how much more vocal youth will become in 2020.

Thunberg coined the hashtag #FridaysforFuture in August 2018, inspiring students globally to hold their own climate strikes. Many of them argued that adults were not doing enough to address the climate catastrophe. Today’s youth saw themselves on the generational front lines of climate change, so they walked out of their schools to demand transformative action.

The strikes spread throughout the fall and winter, and spilled over to 2019. Students in the United Kingdom joined the movement on Feb. 15, 2019 with a mass mobilization, on the heels of Australia, Switzerland, Germany, Japan and many other countries around the world. They skipped school because they felt there was no point to school without a future, and their resistance took their grievances around generational injustice directly to elected officials.

Fridays for Future now estimates that more than 9.6 million strikers in 261 countries have participated in climate strikes. And Thunberg herself has met with hundreds of communities and numerous heads of state. While Thunberg’s celebrity has paved the way for the climate strikes to scale up — her work rests on decades of climate activism that have made this year’s mobilizations possible.

Environmental justice momentum

Indigenous activists like Vanessa Gray, Nick Estes, Autumn Peltier, Kanahus Manuel and many others whose work bridges sovereignty and environmental damage have also played an important role. They have helped shift the climate movement toward the framework of climate justice, which acknowledges the intersections of colonialism, racialization, capitalism and climate change.

This moment also builds on environmental justice movements. Young activists like Isra Hirsi, Cricket Cheng, Maya Menezes and others have been building movements where a racial justice lens brings the climate movement into focus.

While these leaders may not have been recognized with Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, their work has significantly reshaped the climate movement. They are helping politicize a new generation of climate activists who understand climate change not as an isolated phenomenon, but one with roots in a capitalist system that is inherently racist, colonial, sexist and ableist.

Indigenous-led resistance

This year has also seen Indigenous-led resistance to climate change and the related oil, gas, fracking, hydro and other natural resource extraction too.

Secwepemc leaders and their allies have built tiny houses to prevent the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion from being forced through unceded Secwepemc territory. In Mi’kmaqi and Wolastoqey territory, there’s been resistance to fracking. Across northern Manitoba, Cree and Nishnaabe communities are resisting hydro projects they say will devastate their communities.

In British Columbia, nations have fought the Site C dam, which threatens to flood communities, change watersheds and escalate violence against women through work camps filled with men. Inuit and Cree communities in Labrador have resisted the Muskrat Falls hydro project.

This mirrors Indigenous-led environmental action against colonial energy projects around the world, including work in Karen communities in Thailand, Indigenous peoples in Colombia, Waorani peoples in Ecuador, among Saami peoples and countless other Indigenous nations.

Rejecting adult inaction

The climate strikes are an example of youth becoming politicized, rejecting adult inaction and demanding more from governments. In the coming years, we can expect the climate movement to keep growing, become even more politicized and escalate the intensity of tactics.

When governments resist reasonable requests, decades of social movements teach us that activists escalate. We can look at the histories of the HIV/AIDS movement, the Civil Rights movement, African liberation struggles and “poor people’s movements,” which show us that when people get pushed out, they turn up the pressure.

That escalation is necessary to win substantive change. Escalation is not usually seen by the public as nice as polite entreaties, but research clearly shows that direct action leads to change.

Greta’s recognition by Time Magazine will continue to inspire more young people to join their peers in demanding bold climate action like the Green New Deal and to use the legal system as a tool by suing governments over climate inaction.

If elected officials fail to act, we can expect these young people to adopt more disruptive tactics and do the work on the ground to elect new leaders. Even if they can’t yet vote themselves, there are many ways they can- and will continue to- shape our politics and our future.

Joe Curnow, Assistant Professor of Education, University of Manitoba and Anjali Helferty, PhD Candidate at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Penticton Indian Band stands in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en

“We’ve lived in this area for 10,000 years, and our knowledge is being disregarded…” - Chad Eneas.

Techstars Penticton took start-ups from ideas to pitches in 54 hours over the weekend

Local businesspeople worked their ideas to present before a panel of judges.

Penticton, Vernon hockey legends to be inducted into BC Hockey Hall of Fame

Vernon’s Eric Brewer and a record-breaking Penticton Vees team will join the HOF July 24

South Okanagan resident Henry Kriwokon celebrates 100th birthday

Family, friends, police officer and bagpiper gathered at restaurant on Sunday to celebrate milestone

South Okanagan ski hill reports ex-employee to RCMP, closes lift amid investigation

‘We are actively investigating and dealing with the actions of a former employee,’ said the resort

VIDEO: Canada’s first presumptive case of coronavirus officially confirmed

Both patient and wife arrived on a China Southern Airlines flight after having been to Wuhan

Swapping grape varieties can help winemakers adapt to climate change: UBC study

Report says 56% of wine-grape-growing regions would be lost if global climate warms by 2 C

Alberta premier wants feds to approve Teck mine for benefit of First Nations

Kenney: ‘Surely [reconciliation] means saying yes to economic development for First Nations people’

Quintet jazzes it up with Okanagan-wide talents

Justin Glibbery group brings twist of jazz and pop

Trans-Canada closed east of Golden due to avalanche hazard

The highway is estimated to reopen around 7 p.m.

Former Hells Angels associate in Kelowna court on gun, drug charges

Former Angels associate Dale Habib appears in Kelowna court

NDP suggests easing secondary housing rules for B.C. farmland

Lana Popham proposes guest homes not just for relatives

After four sexual assaults in the same B.C. park, RCMP ask women not to walk alone

Four sexual assaults took place in Glen Park over two months

BC Place lights up in purple and yellow to honour Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash

Most Read