Call it the sit-in heard around the world.
Greta Thunberg, a ninth-grader from Sweden, began protesting her country’s lack of action on the issue of climate change last summer. Thunberg sat on the steps outside of the Swedish parliament in Stockholm holding a protest sign, one small 15-year-old against some of the most powerful industries and political forces on the planet. “The politics that’s needed to prevent the climate catastrophe — it doesn’t exist today,” Thunberg, since nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, told The New Yorker. “We need to change the system, as if we were in crisis, as if there were a war going on.”
Thunberg may not be a politician (yet), but her words have helped kickstart a global student movement, if not an all-out war, against the fossil fuel–guzzling status quo. On Friday, March 15, youth all over the globe walked out of school and took to the streets to raise awareness of the all-too-inconvenient, all-too-easily-skirted issue of climate change. An estimated 1.6 million students in more than 300 cities joined the protests, geographically dispersed but united under a single hashtag: #FridaysforFuture.
Protests in New York rolled out over the five boroughs, attracting students of all ages, though the younger ones were chaperoned by parents and teachers. A few thousand mostly high school–aged students in Manhattan gathered first at Columbus Circle, then walked up Central Park West to the Museum of Natural History. On the front steps of the museum, they unfurled signs with slogans like THERE IS NO PLANET B and chanted “Climate change is not a lie / We won’t let our planet die!”
NationSwell joined the protesters, seeking answers to one critical question: How do you think we can fix climate change and save the planet?
One of the youngest protesters, a kindergartner named Nico Pascarella from the nearby Hudson Valley, was accompanied by his mom. He was aware of some of the problems caused by a changing climate, if a little short on actual solutions. “There’s trash in the ocean,” Nico said. “It can kill the animals, and if we throw out straws, the turtles can die.”
Lucy Blum, a sophomore at Beacon High School in Manhattan, told NationSwell, “We’re going to grow up in this world, so we need to make it the way we want it.”
Some students were more blunt. Anthony Prudent, a 10th-grader from Laguardia High School in Manhattan, had a message for adults not present at the protest and/or in denial about the catastrophic implications of global warming: “Show your fucking selves!” He went on, “Sorry to be selfish, but I want to have a future. Also, elect people who listen to people and not to their wallets.”
Zero Hour NYC is a climate-justice nonprofit that helped organize the protest. Natalie Sweet, a sophomore at Horace Mann in the Bronx, volunteers with Zero Hour NYC and said that these strikes were an important first step, but that much more needs to be done by our government. “The IPCC [says that] we have 12 years to live, which is backed by science-based evidence,” Sweet said of the global-warming report released last year by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
“We need reminders like these climate strikers to help push forward legislation, like a 100 percent switch to renewable energy by 2050,” Sweet added. The strikes are only as important as what happens afterwards. Call lawmakers and tell them the facts. It’s a bipartisan issue — it doesn’t take [just] Democrats or Republicans. To show that we have a common goal is an extremely powerful thing.”
Ajani Stella, a 12-year-old seventh-grader at Hunter College High School in Manhattan, is already an experienced activist. He runs his own informational website and is also a youth advisory board member of the Human Impact Institute. “We need to divest from fossil fuels now. By keeping our money in them, we’re basically saying that we don’t care,” Stella said. “Well, stop not caring!”
Stella said that when he grows up, he wants to be a climate engineer and work on designs for an electric aircraft. “Batteries are heavy, but so is gasoline,” he said. “Once we switch to a clean-energy grid, the transportation sector will be close to zero emissions. Events like these make me hopeful that the next generation of voters and politicians are going to work to fix [climate change].”
The next youth-led global protests are scheduled to take place on May 3. Keep up with the latest news on the strikes here, and watch NationSwell’s video above to learn about what solutions the next generation has to fight climate change.