They are in open revolt.
Anxious about their future on a hotter planet, angry at world leaders for failing to arrest the crisis, thousands of young people began pouring into the streets Friday morning for a day of global climate protest.
“I fight for climate justice action because everyone deserves a safe future, which is something our government is not supporting yet,” said, Niamh O’Connor Smith, 17, who addressed the crowd in Melbourne, Australia. “Together, we will change that.”
More than 100,000 protested in Melbourne, in what organizers said was the largest climate action in the country’s history. The rally shut down key public transport corridors for hours.
In Sydney, thousands gathered in the Domain, a sprawling public park just a short walk east of the Central Business District — grandparents escorting their children holding homemade signs, groups of teenagers in school uniforms, parents handing out boxed raisins to their young children.
“You shall not pollute the land in which you live,” one banner in Sydney read.
“We rise like the seas,” read a sign held aloft in Manila, where demonstrators were just beginning to assemble.
At a time of fraying trust in authority figures, the demands of children — who by definition have no authority over anything — are increasingly driving the debate over how to avert the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. Using the internet, they are organizing across continents like no generation before them. And though their vague, outsize demands for an end to fossil fuels mirror those of older environmentalists, their movement has captured the public imagination far more effectively.
“What’s unique about this is that young people are able to see their future is at risk today,” said Kumi Naidoo, the head of Amnesty International and a longtime campaigner for environmental issues. “I certainly hope this is a turning point.”
The generational outcry comes as planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions continue to soar, even as their effects — from rising seas to intensifying storms to debilitating heat waves and droughts — can be felt more and more.
Average global temperatures have risen by about 1 degree Celsius since the start of the industrial age, and the world as a whole remains far from meeting its obligations under the Paris Agreement, the landmark climate accord designed 4 years ago, to keep temperatures from rising to catastrophic levels. President Trump has said the United States, which has contributed more emissions than any country since the start of the industrial age, will pull out of the accord.
An early test of the student protests will come on Monday when world leaders assemble at United Nations headquarters to demonstrate what they are willing to do to avert a crisis. Their speeches are unlikely to assuage the youth strikers, but whether the youth protests will peter out or become more confrontational in the coming weeks and months remains to be seen. More protests are planned for Monday in several cities.
“They’re going to call ‘BS,’” Dana R. Fisher, a sociologist at the University of Maryland who studies contemporary protest movements, said of the protesters. “It’s great for people at the United Nations summit to posture and say they care about this issue, but that’s not enough to stop the climate crisis. These kids are sophisticated enough to recognize that.”
Many websites have said they would go dark, in solidarity with the protests. Groups of scientists, doctors and technology workers are also joining the strikes in various locations.
Certainly, this is not the first time in modern history that young people have been stressed about their future and galvanized around a cause. Young people led social movements against the Vietnam War and for civil rights in the United States. So, too, against apartheid and in the global antinuclear movement.
This is a new generational revolt, though. It’s not against injustice in a particular country, nor against a war. This is about the future on a hotter planet. Young people worry about the cataclysmic impact of climate change on their future, coloring where they will live to how they will grow their food to how to cope with recurrent droughts and floods. The internet allows them to mobilize. They often know more about the issue than their parents do.
Whether they will have any direct impact is unlikely to be clear for years.
Megan Mullin, a political scientist at Duke University in Raleigh, N.C., said she saw no evidence that the youth protests would move the political needle on climate change in a state like hers.
“The challenge is translating something that is a global movement into a kind of concentrated political pressure than can influence government decisions,” she said. “It needs to be translated to influencing decision makers who aren’t already convinced.”
In the United States, climate strikers — nearly two-thirds of whom are women and girls — have been unusually engaged. Half had attended other protests, including for gun control laws and women’s rights, according to a survey that Dr. Fisher carried out among 660 climate strikers. By comparison, 40 percent of survey-takers outside the United States had attended protests on other social issues.
“They are mobilized around an issue of consistent concern across countries and across geographic areas,” Dr. Fisher said. “It spans the developing-developed country divide. There aren’t that many issues that would unify in such a manner. And we all know the burden of climate change will fall on these kids’ shoulders when they are adults. They are acutely aware as well.”
Reporting was contributed by Lewis Fischer in Melbourne, Australia, and Tacey Rychter in Sydney.
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