On March 15, the Climate Kids Are Coming
A massive, international, youth-led mobilization will demand action on the climate crisis.
Beware the Ides of March, all you climate wreckers out there. The Climate Kids are coming, in massive and growing numbers, and they are not in the mood to negotiate. They know that you—whether you’re a fossil-fuel executive, a politician who takes fossil-fuel money, or a Fox News hack who recycles fossil-fuel lies—have put their future in grave danger, and they are rising up to take it back.
On March 15, tens of thousands of high-school and middle-school students in more than 30 countries plan to skip school to demand that politicians treat the global climate crisis as the emergency it is. Shakespeare made the Ides of March famous with his soothsayer’s warning in Julius Caesar, but ancient Romans actually saw it as a day for settling debts. What bigger debt is there than the theft of a livable future? At the March 15 School Strike 4 Climate, young people will call in that debt and, in the United States at least, demand real solutions in the form of the Green New Deal championed by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
If you don’t know who Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg is yet, you can think of her as Ocasio-Cortez’s international climate-change counterpart. Like the rock-star progressive representative from New York, Thunberg is a charismatic young woman whose social-media savvy, moral clarity, and undaunted truth-telling have inspired throngs of admirers to take to the streets for a better world and call out the politicians, propagandists, and CEOs who are standing in the way.
Just as the 29-year-old Ocasio-Cortez torched the right-wing trolls who laughably derided her as “stupid” after she introduced, with Senator Ed Markey, the congressional resolution to create a Green New Deal, so Thunberg, 16, has gained prominence partly from her blistering callouts of global elites. After riding the train for 32 hours to Davos, Switzerland, in January—for the World Economic Forum’s annual gathering to which many billionaires and heads of state arrive in private jets—Thunberg told a panel (which included Gary Cohn, President Trump’s former chief economic adviser) that “some people, some companies, some decision-makers in particular have known exactly what priceless values they have been sacrificing to continue making unimaginable amounts of money.” A pause, and then a final thrust of the knife: “I think many of you here today belong to that group of people.”
The biggest student strikes thus far appear to have been in Australia and Europe, with journalists reporting that 32,000 students and supporters filled the streets of Brussels on January 24. Additional thousands rallied in Berlin, Munich, and smaller cities across Germany, Switzerland, and Belgium. In Dublin, striking students displayed an impressive grasp of climate science—particularly the need to stop releasing additional CO2 into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuel—chanting, “No more coal, no more oil, keep the carbon in the soil.” Thunberg has stated in an interview with The Guardian that there have been student strikes for climate on every continent except Antarctica—70,000 strikers total by the third week of January. Meanwhile, she has continued to blast away at the complacency of too many so-called grown-ups. “Adults keep saying, ‘We owe it to the young people to give them hope,’” Thunberg said at Davos. “But I don’t want your hope…. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if the house is on fire. Because it is.”
And they aren’t sparing their supposed allies. Last November, Sunrise activists welcomed the incoming Democratic majority in the US House of Representatives with protest signs demanding that Democrats “Step Up or Step Aside.” Next, they occupied the office of incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to demand her support for a Green New Deal. The sit-in went viral after Ocasio-Cortez, likewise rejecting the wait-your-turn etiquette expected of freshmen members, joined the protesters. The mainstream media picked up the story, and voilà: The Green New Deal was on its way. For the first time, the US political class was discussing a response to the climate crisis commensurate with the scope and urgency of the problem.
“Power concedes nothing without a demand,” Frederick Douglass observed during the fight against slavery. “It never did and it never will.” Their understanding of this axiom of social change is what makes Ocasio-Cortez, Thunberg, Villasenor, and all the Climate Kids so effective and exciting. They grasp what many of their elders apparently never learned: The climate struggle is not about having the best science, the smartest arguments, or the most bipartisan talking points. It is about power—specifically, the power that ExxonMobil and the rest of the fossil-fuel industry wield over governments and economies the world over, and their willingness to use that power to enforce a business model guaranteed to fry the planet. With the moral urgency of youth and the self-preservation instinct of all living things, the Climate Kids recognize that either the industry goes or they do. And they are not giving up without a fight.
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