Children who missed school to join climate change rally ‘more responsible than us’


- Credit: Archant

On March 15, 1.5million students around the world left their schools and colleges to march for climate action, including many from our Camden schools.

Young people are demanding answers as to why action has not been taken to heed scientific warnings. We know global greenhouse gas emissions must be cut rapidly in the next 11 years if we are to stop climate devastation.

Anna Taylor, co-founder of the UK Student Climate Network, has said: “The burden of holding powerful actors to account over their climate records has unfortunately fallen on the young. We’ve been betrayed by the climate inaction of previous generations.”

Taylor’s uncomfortable but truthful statement poses dilemmas for pupils, parents and teachers. Headteachers in Camden have taken widely different approaches to school strikes. Some have authorised, or tolerated, pupil absence. Others have taken a tougher stance, even threatening detention for striking pupils.

The next UK strike is scheduled for April 12, which luckily falls during the Easter holiday. But what if the strikes continue? Will school strikes hurt our children’s education or is political disruption led by young people necessary to stop humanity sleepwalking over the ecological cliff? Parents and pupils going on strike acknowledge that attendance is important but argue that strikes are one of the few vehicles for young people to make their voices heard.

Perhaps our children are more responsible than us? That’s an uncomfortable thought. But after all we are the ones with the political power, and not many of us have actively held our politicians to account. By the time children now in school get to vote or take up political office, it will be too late to make the changes needed.

So perhaps in the circumstances we must go further than tolerate their protests but also act to add our voices to theirs, whilst there is still a chance to prevent runaway climate change.

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Here are a few concrete steps that can be taken to back strikes including by those who choose to stay in school.

Parents and children can communicate the urgency of the situation to their councillors and MPs by writing letters, tweeting them or seeing them in person. They can “speak truth to power”. Many councils are now passing “climate emergency” motions recognising we are jeopardising life on Earth. The London mayor and neighbouring Haringey have just done so. Councils can ensure that their investments do not support the fossil fuel industry and that planning policy supports low carbon energy efficient buildings and transport systems. These policies reduce heating costs and improve air quality and well being. On a national level, MPs can be reminded that the UK should adopt a net-zero target for 2050 to show international leadership in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Much more can be done within schools. Perhaps they can launch their own “emergency action” plans? Steps might include learning about the ecological crisis we are now facing, switching purchasing power to green energy, investing in energy efficiency measures, encouraging students to walk and cycle to school, and understanding the climate impact of lifestyle choices relating to meat consumption, fast fashion and single-use plastics.

Whatever your views about the school strike, we must surely agree that our young people are right to demand a better future. The uncomfortable truth is we grown-ups have to step up and take urgent, joined up action at the personal, local and global level.

• Farhana Yamin is a climate change lawyer turned activist. Maya de Souza was previously a local councillor and community activist in Camden. Both together host Dartmouth Park Talks, a platform for dialogue and discussion on the big issues facing our local and global community.