Two strikes were held on Sept. 20 and 27, as the UN emergency climate summit took place on Sept. 23. Madelaine Picard joined both the protests happening in Prince Rupert and plans to come back as often as she can for Fridays for Future. (Jenna Cocullo / The Northern View)

Two strikes were held on Sept. 20 and 27, as the UN emergency climate summit took place on Sept. 23. Madelaine Picard joined both the protests happening in Prince Rupert and plans to come back as often as she can for Fridays for Future. (Jenna Cocullo / The Northern View)

How youth protests shaped the discussion on climate change

Climate strikes are an example of youth becoming politicized and rejecting adult inaction

Greta Thunberg made history again this month when she was named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year. The 16-year-old has become the face of youth climate action, going from a lone child sitting outside the Swedish parliament building in mid-2018 to a symbol for climate strikers — young and old — around the world.

Thunberg was far from the first young person to speak up in an effort to hold the powerful accountable for their inaction on climate change, yet the recognition of her efforts come at a time when world leaders will have to decide whether — or with how much effort — they will tackle climate change. Their actions or inactions will determine how much more vocal youth will become in 2020.

Thunberg coined the hashtag #FridaysforFuture in August 2018, inspiring students globally to hold their own climate strikes. Many of them argued that adults were not doing enough to address the climate catastrophe. Today’s youth saw themselves on the generational front lines of climate change, so they walked out of their schools to demand transformative action.

The strikes spread throughout the fall and winter, and spilled over to 2019. Students in the United Kingdom joined the movement on Feb. 15, 2019 with a mass mobilization, on the heels of Australia, Switzerland, Germany, Japan and many other countries around the world. They skipped school because they felt there was no point to school without a future, and their resistance took their grievances around generational injustice directly to elected officials.

Fridays for Future now estimates that more than 9.6 million strikers in 261 countries have participated in climate strikes. And Thunberg herself has met with hundreds of communities and numerous heads of state. While Thunberg’s celebrity has paved the way for the climate strikes to scale up — her work rests on decades of climate activism that have made this year’s mobilizations possible.

Environmental justice momentum

Indigenous activists like Vanessa Gray, Nick Estes, Autumn Peltier, Kanahus Manuel and many others whose work bridges sovereignty and environmental damage have also played an important role. They have helped shift the climate movement toward the framework of climate justice, which acknowledges the intersections of colonialism, racialization, capitalism and climate change.

This moment also builds on environmental justice movements. Young activists like Isra Hirsi, Cricket Cheng, Maya Menezes and others have been building movements where a racial justice lens brings the climate movement into focus.

While these leaders may not have been recognized with Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, their work has significantly reshaped the climate movement. They are helping politicize a new generation of climate activists who understand climate change not as an isolated phenomenon, but one with roots in a capitalist system that is inherently racist, colonial, sexist and ableist.

Indigenous-led resistance

This year has also seen Indigenous-led resistance to climate change and the related oil, gas, fracking, hydro and other natural resource extraction too.

Secwepemc leaders and their allies have built tiny houses to prevent the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion from being forced through unceded Secwepemc territory. In Mi’kmaqi and Wolastoqey territory, there’s been resistance to fracking. Across northern Manitoba, Cree and Nishnaabe communities are resisting hydro projects they say will devastate their communities.

In British Columbia, nations have fought the Site C dam, which threatens to flood communities, change watersheds and escalate violence against women through work camps filled with men. Inuit and Cree communities in Labrador have resisted the Muskrat Falls hydro project.

This mirrors Indigenous-led environmental action against colonial energy projects around the world, including work in Karen communities in Thailand, Indigenous peoples in Colombia, Waorani peoples in Ecuador, among Saami peoples and countless other Indigenous nations.

Rejecting adult inaction

The climate strikes are an example of youth becoming politicized, rejecting adult inaction and demanding more from governments. In the coming years, we can expect the climate movement to keep growing, become even more politicized and escalate the intensity of tactics.

When governments resist reasonable requests, decades of social movements teach us that activists escalate. We can look at the histories of the HIV/AIDS movement, the Civil Rights movement, African liberation struggles and “poor people’s movements,” which show us that when people get pushed out, they turn up the pressure.

That escalation is necessary to win substantive change. Escalation is not usually seen by the public as nice as polite entreaties, but research clearly shows that direct action leads to change.

Greta’s recognition by Time Magazine will continue to inspire more young people to join their peers in demanding bold climate action like the Green New Deal and to use the legal system as a tool by suing governments over climate inaction.

If elected officials fail to act, we can expect these young people to adopt more disruptive tactics and do the work on the ground to elect new leaders. Even if they can’t yet vote themselves, there are many ways they can- and will continue to- shape our politics and our future.

Joe Curnow, Assistant Professor of Education, University of Manitoba and Anjali Helferty, PhD Candidate at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Interior Health update. File photo.
86 new COVID-19 cases, two more deaths in Interior Health

The new deaths are from Heritage Square, a long-term care facility in Vernon

A power outage Thursday night left nearly 3,000 homes in Clinton and the 70 Mile areas in the dark. (Katie McCullough photo).
Updated: Clinton, 70 Mile left in the dark after vehicle crashes into transmission pole

BC Hydro still working to restore power to 330 homes in 70 Mile House

A woman wearing a protective face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 walks past a mural in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
115 new COVID-19 cases, no new deaths in Interior Health

There are now a total of 4,970 cases in the region

Community consultation is now open regarding disposal of the former Ashcroft Elementary property, which since 2015 has operated as the Ashcroft HUB. (Photo credit: Vicci Weller)
Feedback now sought regarding disposal of Ashcroft Elementary

Residents of the region can have their say about the future of the former AES property

Keith the curious kitten is seen on Nov. 4, 2020 at the Chilliwack SPCA. Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 is Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Jan. 17 to 23

Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day, Pie Day and International Sweatpants Day are all coming up this week

JaHyung Lee, “Canada’s oldest senior” at 110 years old, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. He lives at Amenida Seniors Community in Newton. (Submitted photo: Amenida Seniors Community)
A unique-looking deer has been visiting a Nanoose Bay property with its mother. (Frieda Van der Ree photo)
A deer with 3 ears? Unique animal routinely visits B.C. property

Experts say interesting look may be result of an injury rather than an odd birth defect

Standardized foundation skills assessment tests in B.C. schools will be going ahead later than usual, from Feb. 16 to March 12 for students in Grades 4 and 7. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. teachers say COVID-affected school year perfect time to end standardized tests

Foundational skills testing of Grade 4 and 7 students planned for February ad March

Sooke’s Jim Bottomley is among a handful of futurists based in Canada. “I want to help people understand the future of humanity.” (Aaron Guillen - Sooke News Mirror)
No crystal ball: B.C. man reveals how he makes his living predicting the future

63-year-old has worked analytical magic for politicians, car brands, and cosmetic companies

Terry David Mulligan. (Submitted photo)
Podcast: Interview with longtime actor/broadcaster and B.C. resident Terry David Mulligan

Podcast: Talk includes TDM’s RCMP career, radio, TV, wine, Janis Joplin and much more

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza virtually nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Friday, January 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau says Canada’s COVID vaccine plan on track despite Pfizer cutting back deliveries

Canadian officials say country will still likely receive four million doses by the end of March

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon shared a handwritten note his son received on Jan. 13, 2021. (Ravi Kahlon/Twitter)
Proud dad moment: B.C. minister’s son, 10, receives handwritten note for act of kindness

North Delta MLA took to Twitter to share a letter his son received from a new kid at school

Most Read