They’re angry at their elders, and they’re not taking it sitting down.
Students worldwide are planning to skip class Friday and take to the streets to protest their governments’ failure to take sufficient action against global warming.
The coordinated ‘school strike’ was inspired by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who began holding solitary demonstrations outside the Swedish parliament last year.
Since then, the weekly protests have snowballed from a handful of cities to hundreds, driven by social media-savvy students and dramatic headlines about the impact of climate change.
Thunberg, who was recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, was cheered for her blunt message to leaders at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland this year, when she told them: “I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day.”
Protests in 100 countries
Friday’s rallies are expected to be one of the biggest international actions yet. A website coordinating the protests lists events in more than 100 countries, from New Zealand to the United States.
Some politicians have criticized the students, suggesting they should be spending their time in school, not on the streets.
“One can’t expect children and young people to see all of the global connections, what’s technically reasonable and economically possible,” said the head of Germany’s pro-business Free Democratic Party, Christian Lindner. “That’s a matter for professionals.”
But scientists have backed the protests, with thousands signing petitions in support of the students in Britain, Finland and Germany.
“We are the professionals and we’re saying the young generation is right,” said Volker Quaschning, a professor of engineering at Berlin’s University of Applied Sciences.
“We should be incredibly grateful and appreciative of their bravery,” said Quaschning, one of more than 14,000 German-speaking scientists to sign a letter of support this week. “Because in a sense, it’s incredibly brave not to go to school for once.”
Decades of warning
Scientists have warned for decades that current levels of greenhouse gas emissions are unsustainable, so far with little effect. In 2015, world leaders agreed in Paris to a goal of keeping the Earth’s global temperature rise by the end of the century well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).
Yet at present, the world is on track for an increase of 4 degrees Celsius, which experts say would have far-reaching consequences for life on the planet.
“As a doctor, I can say it makes a big difference whether you’ve got a fever of 41 degrees Celsius (105.8 Fahrenheit) or 43 C (109.4 F),” said Eckart von Hirschhausen, a German scientist who signed the call supporting striking students. “One of those is compatible with life, the other isn’t.”
Policies don’t go far enough
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron have publicly welcomed the student protests, even as their policies have been criticized as too limited by environmental activists.
In France, activist groups launched legal action this week for failing to do enough to fight climate change, citing a similar successful effort in the Netherlands .
In Germany, environmental groups and experts have attacked government plans to continue using coal and natural gas for decades to come. Activists say that countries like Germany should fully “decarbonize” by 2040, giving less-advanced nations a bit more time to wean themselves off fossil fuels while still meeting the Paris goal globally.
Other changes needed to curb greenhouse gas emissions include ramping up renewable energy production, reigning in over-consumption culture now spreading beyond the industrialized West and changing diets, experts say.
“The fight against climate change is going to be uncomfortable, in parts, and we need to have a societywide discussion about this,” said Quaschning.
That conversation is likely to get louder, with several U.S. presidential hopefuls planning to campaign on climate change.
Google has been accused of making “substantial” donations to at least a dozen Washington-based think tanks that deny climate change and are actively campaigning against stricter climate legislation.
This is in stark contrast to Google CEO Sundar Pichai who has taken a public pledge to take urgent action against the climate crisis.
According to a report in The Guardian, Google contributed heavily to conservative groups like the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) and the American Conservative Union that are in support of regulatory efforts that benefit tech companies.
The CEI is a strong proponent of the idea that climate change is a myth. In the past, the group has taken tough stances in opposition to tech regulation and antitrust enforcement.
According to reports, Google is “trying to appease conservatives so it can retain important protections under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act a” a law that protects Google from being responsible for third-parties”.
A company spokesperson said that it might not endorse every policy position of an organization when it makes a contribution.
“We’re hardly alone among companies that contribute to organisations while strongly disagreeing with them on climate policy,” a Google spokesperson told The Verge.
Pichai last month announced the biggest corporate purchase of renewable energy in history — made up of a 1,600-megawatt (MW) package of agreements that includes 18 new energy deals.
“These deals will increase our worldwide portfolio of wind and solar agreements by more than 40 per cent, to 5,500 MW equivalent to the capacity of a million solar rooftops,” Pichai said in a statement.
“Once all these projects come online, our carbon-free energy portfolio will produce more electricity than places like Washington D.C. or entire countries like Lithuania or Uruguay use each year,” he added.
The announcement came as hundreds of Google employees participated in the “Global Climate Strike” during the United Nation’s climate summit on September 23.
In a blog post, the Google Workers for Action on Climate group highlighted some of the funding that the company was involved with that contradicted its public stance on climate change.
“Google Cloud makes significant revenue licensing infrastructure, machine learning, and engineering talent to fossil fuel companies, promising to help them extract fuel reserves faster,” the group said. (IANS)