On Friday, hundreds — maybe even thousands — of Philadelphia-area high school and college students will purposefully not do the one thing adults ask them to do. They will not go to school. Instead, they will strike, kids protesting adult inaction on climate change, what some presidential candidates correctly call the “greatest existential threat of our time.”
These millennials and Gen Zers will gather at City Hall, and will be joined by kids across the world at 2,500 events from more than 150 countries. The last time a student climate strike of this magnitude occurred, last March, 1.6 million kids in 125 countries, including 100,000 in Milan, 40,000 in Paris, 10,000 in New York, 150,000 in Australia, protested the devastating and woeful lack of action on this issue by us adults. This one promises to be bigger.
They are inspired by Greta Thunberg, the Swedish 16-year-old who famously began climate striking in 2018 in response to wildfires and record-setting temperatures in that country, and who has created an organization, Fridays for Future, that leads the strikes. She’ll be in New York for this event in advance of next week’s UN Climate Action Summit, followed quickly thereafter by the General Assembly meeting. Already, Thunberg has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
As an aging Boomer, I am humbled by the power these kids are building and thrilled by the movement they are creating. In addition to Fridays for Future, the Sunrise Movement group has built and continues building impressive activist chops — they are just not waiting for the old-guard greens to solve this issue for them.
But as an environmental educator who has been teaching and writing about this issue for more than 30 years, I am saddened and frustrated, embarrassed and enraged, at my own generation’s inability to move this issue off of square one within the political arena.
That competent adults are still debating whether or not the issue is real, willfully ignoring the painfully obvious and increasingly loud signals the earth is sending us, is inconceivable, maddening, mind-numbing. We have been literally fiddling while the world burns. For 30 years.
These kids sense something adults seem to have missed: that we are running out of time. Whatever predictions science makes about the climate, climate beats the prediction. Oceans are rising more rapidly, wildfires are burning hotter, ice caps are melting more quickly, species are vanishing faster: it is all unfolding sooner than expected. It is here, now. And people are responsible.
“Our house is on fire,” read many signs at many of these events, both a literal and figurative truth.
The climate strikers are also frustrated that the very narrow window of opportunity to address this issue is too-quickly closing, as by the time they are able to vote and run for office, that window will have closed.
So they have taken matters into their own hands. This adult at least is proud of them, amazed at their ability to push this issue onto the front burner, something I at least have been unable to do, and will be joining them in solidarity on Friday.
Hey kids: I’ll see you at City Hall.