It’s on again. This Friday more than 2000 Canberra school students will join other young people across Australia and around the world in a mass school walk out. Instead of school work, they will rally to demand more action on climate change.
From 12 pm on Friday they will descend on Garema Place for a rally that will include speeches and discussion and a march to Glebe Park. They will share their stories about what they want to see happen about climate change. They will call on politicians and business leaders to do more to respond to the evidence that we are hurtling towards a global environmental catastrophe.
This is not the first time it has happened. Many people will remember the scenes from last November, where around 15,000 students walked out of school in protest of the same issue. The movement, sparked by a single 16-year-old in Sweden, has gone global.
The activities planned for this week are even bigger. An account that is tracking the planned actions shows rallies are planned across the world. Students will be gathering in Europe, the Americas, Asia and Australia in a coordinated effort to call for change.
Young people protesting is nothing new. There are, however, a couple of things that make this action unique and different to what we have seen before.
The speed at which these young people have been able to connect and mobilise is breathtaking. These digital natives have used the internet to connect with their neighbours, their communities, across the country and across the world. They have surprised even seasoned campaigners in their ability to engage with their peers and motivate action.
The age of these youth leaders is also striking. Rather than university-aged youth, the organisers of this movement are in their teens – they are in high school and even primary school. They have discovered their voice and power, and have the confidence to demand that their voice be heard.
These young people have paid attention and informed themselves about how little time we have left to do something about climate change. These young people know that they can’t wait until they get through their education before the impacts of climate change will be locked in, permanent and irreversible.
Every week, more data is provided about the likely future if action is not taken soon. A new climate tool developed by the ANU and Australian Conservation Foundation shows that without serious action now, by 2050 Canberra will face average maximum temperatures almost 4 degrees hotter than the 1960-90 average, more than 101 days a year above 30C (that is 72 more than the old average) and 19 per cent less rain.
There has also been backlash to this movement since it started. There are those who are cynical that it is young people themselves coordinating this action. There are others, however, that are standing in solidarity with the participants and supporting their actions. While led by young people themselves, there are plenty of parents, teachers and others supporting their action and involvement.
Here in Canberra, we should celebrate that the ACT Education Directorate did not penalise students who took part in the events associated with the student strike. This time around, the Australian Education Union has put out a statement supporting the students‘ right to take action and have committed to working with education departments to ensure that students can access their democratic right.
While they may be missing a day of school this week, I have been mighty impressed seeing many young people devote their spare time to organising the event. They have learned tons of skills in the process. Some of these are highly practical – research, event management, project management and working in teams. Some of these are creative and artistic. Importantly they are learning key communication skills – how to craft a message and how to communicate with political leaders, the media, parents, and other young people.
They are also teaching us. This action shows how engaged, smart and savvy our younger generation are. They are schooling us in the importance of getting involved and standing up for what you believe in. They are showing us the value of the contributions they can make. They are demonstrating that they are not just future leaders but leaders now.
I am looking forward to standing in solidarity with the young people taking part in the Student Strike this week. What great leadership have you seen young people take?