The school climate strike movement that has roiled Europe and Australia for months on end is about to land on U.S. shores.
A handful of climate strikers across the country have been building momentum for months, but students will be walking out of class on Friday across the U.S. to protest inaction on climate change.
There are more than 400 protests planned in all 50 states and organisers are expecting 100,000 students in the U.S. to join the strike. Fridays for The Future, the group sprung up the wake of Swedish striker Greta Thunberg’s protests last year, is expecting up to 1 million students could walk out of school in solidarity around the world.
The youth strikers are asking adults to join them and already have the support of a wide range of organisations including Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, and Extinction Rebellion that will be coordinating actions globally.
The reason for striking is pretty simple: The current generation of world leaders is abjectly failing future generations and time is running out to take action and avoid catastrophic climate change. With many strikers unable to vote, civil disobedience is their best avenue to influence leaders and policymakers.
But each striker has their own rationale for striking and different things they hope to achieve. Earther spoke with five strikers from across the U.S. to understand the movement and where it’s headed. Their responses have been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
Why are you striking?
Anna Grace Hottinger, 16 years old, striking St. Paul: I’m striking to bring different communities together and to also prioritise the urgency of climate change. It’s something that we all must address together.
Zane Kalmus-Kunde, 10 years old, striking in Los Angeles: I’m striking because the world is falling apart in humanity’s hands and we need to try to fix it. Why go to school when the world is burning and people are dying?
Braird Kunde-Kalmus, 12 years old, striking in Los Angeles (and Zane’s brother): I believe I have a good childhood, but I believe if we keep going in the direction humans are continuing on, if I live long enough to have children, it’ll be drastically different. I’m striking because the kids after me—my kids and other people’s kids—deserve the same childhood I’m having. And it’s not fair if you give them anything less.
Grace Lampert, 16 years old, striking in Seattle: I am striking for the future and future generations, but also because I don’t want to have to spend the rest of my life in a world that is destroyed.
Liam Neupert, 16 years old, striking in Boise: In Boise and the West in general, we have this dynamic where you can live in a big city and there’s still so much nature surrounding you. I absolutely love nature, but I think sometimes it’s taken for granted. It can sometimes feel a little lonely so to hear that there were other students out there in the world, and especially in the U.S., who wanted to get involved and create change really inspired me. I was like, this needs to happen because so many of our leaders think climate change is a political thing when it’s just about human rights.
When did climate change become an issue that mattered to you?
Anna Grace: This fall, my sister was in the California wildfires in Ventura and that really just changed how I view climate change because it is an issue that has hit me personally. So now, it’s immediately very urgent.
Zane: When I was eight probably. I just started to realise it reading articles. They were all really dire and they were saying the world won’t be the same in 20 years or 10 years.
Braird: When I was nine or eight. My dad has always been a climate scientist so he introduced it to me but once I started actually researching climate change and writing all my essays about it that I did in school, it really started to frighten me.
Grace: The environment in general has always been a big thing in my life, but climate change itself probably became a big thing for me a couple of years ago as all of these reports came out on it. You were seeing people not really taking them seriously and not really worried about it. As I’ve gotten older and more involved and interested in what’s going on in the world, I’ve become more and more worried about climate change and how it’s going to affect my future.
Liam: I think it’s something that’s kind of grown over time. Three years ago, I went vegetarian after watching documentaries and reading up about pollution and carbon emissions created from eating meat. And then about a year and a half ago I decided to go vegan. More recently, I’ve been realising that consumption has a lot to do with how we treat our Earth. I’m really into textiles and fashion. Realising how much of an impact the things that are essential in life like clothing impact our environment clicked into place.
What’s one thing you would like adults to know about climate change?
Anna Grace: I want adults to know that climate change has hit many people very hard already. And it’s going to hit our young generation even harder. That’s scary to think about. It’s really not a Republican issue, it’s really not a Democratic issue, it’s not a party issue. Every single person is in this fight whether they like it or not.
Zane: The world is dying because of climate change and humans are basically the only group that can stop it.
Braird: We can’t stop it unless everyone tries to do something.
Grace: There are two things. One is that they need to listen to us because we’re the ones who are going to be the most affected by this. And the other thing is that I don’t really feel like a lot of adults, especially the ones in the government, realise how dire and how catastrophic climate change is going to be. A lot of them seem to feel like it’s just this way off in the future thing that we might eventually have to deal with rather than something that we’re dealing with right now and something that is affecting our lives at this very moment.
Liam: One thing that everyone should know about climate change is that it’s not something that should be a battle or a fight. It’s about asking for all of us to treat our home with some common decency and not totally exploiting all of its resources.
What about Friday’s strike most excites you?
Anna Grace: I’m really excited for the energy. You go on the national Instagram account and everyone is just so hyped up and energetic. It’s very inspiring because we all see the potential to come together and celebrate the successes, but also show the adults around us that this is an important matter that the coming generation cares about and that future voters care about.
Zane: I like talking to people and telling them why we’re doing it. We usually strike at our school so I look forward to telling adults on Friday.
Braird: I’m excited that because when we started, we only had my brother and I. Now we have at least three other people that joined the school strikes and it’s spread to another school. So that’s what I’m most excited about, that I can do it with people who care about it as well.
Grace: Oh there’s so many things, but I’m most excited to see the hard work that all of us organisers have put in over the past month really come together. I think that it will be cool to see that at the local level and also nationally and worldwide, to see the kind of response that we get and how many people show up.
Liam: A lot of the time I feel like this is a lonesome journey. So I’m really excited to see that there are other people out there who care and other people out there who want to make a difference, and that it’s also not just youth but adults who want to join it and make a difference.
How do you think the strike could change things?
Anna Grace: This strike can change the course of things like March for Our Lives. There was a lot of national press coverage and it became a big movement. People were all in for it. These strikes could create a lot of momentum.
Leaders could look up and say “this is something our kids care about, this is something our constituents care about so it’s something I should care about.”
Zane: School is something all children attend. So when we aren’t going to school because of climate change, it will raise more attention about climate change.
Braird: If it can keep spreading to other schools, we’ll eventually have giant, mass school strikes. And hopefully that will raise everyone’s attention and make it so that politicians and people in power will actually try to stop because currently they aren’t doing anything. We don’t have any time to wait. We have all the facts. We have everything we need to stop it. We just need to just need action.
Grace: I think that the strike eventually will change things. But knowing the way that our government works and how long that it takes for things get done, it’s going to be a while until we see the things that we want to change happening, at least at the national level. But I would definitely hope that things like the Green New Deal and moving to 100 per cent renewable energy and our CO2 emissions going down happen at the local level really soon. I get to vote in this upcoming election I think that people’s stance on climate change is going to be one of the biggest factors if not the biggest [in how I vote].
Liam: People are starting to listen more because we’re making our voices heard. And the people who are listening to us are allowing us to influence their choices, and they’re going to use their voices to help ours get heard in a political way. They can vote knowing that we as a future generation need this generation to change.