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How one teen’s strike inspired a youth movement against climate change in 112 countries

Last September, Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish teen, led a two-week solo strike outside parliament in central Stockholm. Every day she handed out pamphlets that read, “I am doing this because you adults are shitting on my future.”

Thunberg’s strike called for the EU to reduce emissions by 80 percent by 2030, which was twice the amount EU leaders had agreed upon back in 2014.

She would be criticized by Prime Minister Theresa May for “wasting lesson time,” which she responded to by tweeting, “but then again, political leaders have wasted 30 years of inaction. And that is slightly worse.”

Since then, the teen activist and recently nominated Nobel peace prize nominee has been a catalyst to a global movement in raising awareness on the dangers of climate change. She has inspired youth activists in countries like South Africa and Russia to lead their own climate change protests, with more than 1,000 school strikes expected to launch today.

Thunberg’s initial protest occurred around the same time the world’s leading scientists warned that we have 12 years to limit the increase in global warming to no more than half a degree. Meaning the impact of climate change will become irreversible if urgent changes are not implemented. The effects include droughts, floods, extreme heat, and famine. If the sea temperature rises more than half a degree in the next 12 years, the risk of these natural disasters will significantly worsen the lives of millions of people.

What is terrifying is how much of this is out of our direct control.

A 2017 study found that just 100 companies are responsible for 71 percent of the global carbon emissions since 1988. In that same year, Trump promised to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement which aims to significantly lessen the rise in temperature. In this era of capitalism, such moves and climate change denial can only be seen as attempts to preserve and profit from these practices.

Though corporate giants are responsible for climate change that doesn’t mean the rest of us shouldn’t go into action.

An article in The Guardian talks about how neoliberalism has conned us into fighting climate change as individuals. Individual efforts are described as “flap[ping] towels in a burning house” or “bring[ing] a flyswatter to a gunfight.” These comparisons aren’t untrue but they remove our individual responsibilities.

Our individual decisions can lay the foundations for greater awareness of climate change and increased pressure towards major companies to change their policies. So, yes, there is something we can do. We can recycle, use less plastic, eat less meat, invest in renewable energy and buy less produce. We can use our vote to challenge the system and if you have capital, you can move your investments away from companies that use fossil fuels or release high carbon emissions.

People taking collective action in their personal lives is one of the best ways of getting society to implement policy changes that are desperately needed. Humans rely on social cues from those around them to recognize emergencies. While one person’s actions won’t solve the problem, their actions can provoke greater awareness and responsibility to the people around them, as witnessed with Thunberg’s protest.

In her TED Talk, Thunberg talks about how the conversation surrounding climate change has been more about “pep-talking” and “selling positive ideas,” rather than a direct call to actions by individuals. And while she agrees that we need hope, she says that what we need far more is action because the current model isn’t working

“Some people say that Sweden is just a small country, and that it doesn’t matter what we do,” she said. “But I think that if a few children can get headlines all over the world just by not coming to school for a few weeks, imagine what we could all do together if you wanted to.”

By Alice Draper

Alice Draper is a freelance writer based in South Africa. When Alice isn't behind her laptop or book you may find her experimenting in the kitchen, trying (often in vain) to keep her garden alive or drinking wine with a friend.