History will probably remember her as the initiator of a global revolution. When Greta Thunberg started her high school climate strike in August 2018 – every Friday, in front of Stockholm’s Parliament – she put climate issues on front page news. While alone at first, she was quickly joined by thousands of young people around the world.
2019 marks a turning point in the gradual organisation of young people taking action for the climate. On March 15 2019, the true extent of the “climate generation” was there for the whole world to see: more than two million young people in over 2,300 cities and 135 countries around the globe1.
While the movement has been slow to take shape in France, it joined the movement in February 2019 and is only getting bigger. The actions in France on March 15 led by Youth For Climate France demonstrate this strong mobilisation: 168,000 young people were on the streets of France, including 50,000 in Paris, all marching to the chants of “climate justice”, “crimes against humanity” and “more threatening than the climate”2.
These young people will strike for a second time on May 24 2019, this time by heading to the polling stations. This resulted in a historic turnout by 18-24 year olds in the European elections – the age group for which “green” candidates received the most votes3. With their climate strike, young people have elevated climate and environmental issues into the political and societal debate4.
The climate generation’s rational can be reduced to three major demands. First, inheriting from the wisdom of previous generations of environmental activists who have fought against hollow words, young people are now demanding concrete measures that are up to meet the environmental challenges. Likewise, radicalism is becoming a necessity – both in the demands themselves and in the actions chosen to create the necessary power relations to obtain them, including school strikes, civil disobedience, or even blockades. Politicians are asked to grasp the scale and scope of the crisis and to use all available political levers to respond to it, at the societal level and across all sectors.
One imperative, however, must guide this societal transformation: it must be fair, equitable, and must reflect on the society that we wish for. This is the second pillar of the young people’s message. While the movement’s starting point is the climate crisis, we all know the extent and complexity of the interconnected ecological and social crises that are currently unfolding. The strong social mobilization seen in France ahead of the youth climate movement has highlighted the need for a link between ecological and social issues. This raises questions about employment, the distribution of wealth, production and consumption dynamics, transport, etc.
Finally, to respond to this rapid and systemic transformation, young people are turning to those whom they identify as responsible for both the current crises and the lack of response to them. If, in playing their part, they recognize the importance of individual accountability, they also understand that this in itself will not be enough. While around 100 companies are responsible for 71% of greenhouse gas emissions5, young people point the finger at economic leaders and large companies that cause massive greenhouse gas emissions. They also oppose disengagement by governments that often place responsibility for climate action on the shoulders of citizens rather than on political and economic institutions.
The battle to preserve our planet is now only beginning. The climate generation is braced and ready to fight for its future.