A little over a year ago, Greta Thunberg, a 15-year-old from Stockholm, stayed home from school one day to conduct her own climate change protest outside the Swedish Parliament building. She skipped school the next day, too, and the day after that, and the week after that, again and again, until she was striking every Friday—but no longer alone. Thunberg’s protests inspired weekly #fridaysforfuture school strikes in cities around the world, sparking a movement of young people demanding climate action—and justice.
They have good reason to strike. By the time today’s high school seniors turn 50, scientists predict that the average annual number of days in the United States on which the heat index exceeds 100 degrees Fahrenheit will have doubled. Worldwide, humanity will face more frequent devastating storms, year-round wildfire “seasons,” and rapidly rising sea levels that threaten to displace more than 800 million people. That is, unless today’s leaders and industries come together, now, to curb carbon emissions enough to hold global average warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius—the recognized threshold to prevent the escalation of the most dire climate consequences.
At the U.N. Climate Action Summit next week, representatives from nearly every nation will meet in New York City to discuss that goal. But three days beforehand, to make certain the concerns of their generation are brought to the table, millions of students and other young people plan to walk out of their schools or workplaces in what could be the largest climate strike yet. Friday’s strike kicks off a week of thousands of events worldwide. At a separate event last Monday, Thunberg, now 16, said, “I want September 20th to be another tipping point, a social tipping point” that gives world leaders “a feeling that they cannot embarrass themselves now, that they have too many people watching them.”
Below, we introduce you to a small sample of those who will be watching. These four young Americans come from different places and backgrounds, and their primary motivations for striking vary. But what connects them with each other and with the rest of the strikers is painfully obvious: They’re fighting for their futures.
Abe Gobellan, 16
Greenville, North Carolina
I strike for the underrepresented communities—the ones affected the most, but whose faces are seldom seen in the climate movement. In my area, these people are the ones who get hit the hardest when we have hurricanes. And they still haven't recovered from the last one when they get hit again. They are the communities who get flooded the most, who see the most damage, and who suffer the most deaths. I strike because my local representatives and city mayors have either not spoken about the climate crisis or have lied about their climate action plans. I strike because I want a livable future and a sustainable planet to live on and for upcoming generations to be able to experience this beautiful planet too.
Anna Siegel, 13
I strike because we have deafened our ears to the earth. I strike because we have blinded ourselves to the natural world. Animals are my passion—they have been ever since I was little. I dreamed of researching wildlife, to understand why not all animals are thriving. However, it wasn’t until I was older that I truly realized the extent to which humans are harming biodiversity. For the first time, I faltered when I told people my dream to study wildlife. I wasn’t so sure anymore that the work I wanted to do would be possible in a few decades. What if there weren’t any intact habitats left by then? What if every research paper was another devastating report? Those worries are why I strike—so the children of tomorrow can fall in love with the natural world, just as I have.
Sabirah Binth Mahmud, 16
I will be striking along with youth across the world because my family in Bangladesh is dying. Unlike us, who live in the United States surrounded by the privileges of this country, my family continues to suffer from floods, mass fires, and air pollution every single day. I’ve lost three cousins already due to childhood cancer and one of my nephews due to a flood in which he drowned. These climate disasters that we might see once in our lives are their everyday realities, and this country that my family calls home is soon to perish. That is why I’m striking along with the global youth against the climate crisis. No one deserves to have these climate disasters as their daily life, and we need to take action against this growing normality.
Cody Clark, 16
I am climate striking because everything I know is being affected by the climate crisis. It’s getting hotter. Only a few rooms in our school have AC, and feeling the heat of the day and trying to study is getting harder. My best friend in California had to miss weeks of school because of smog and wildfire smoke in the air. Earthquakes literally and figuratively shake my town, which is full of injection wells from fracking, yet fossil fuel executives are still trying to convince us to use plastic straws. It’s time fossil fuel corporations are held accountable. Everything we all know will be torn down if we don’t act now. But if we DO act now, imagine the world we could create! My friends and I are tired of our futures being put on the back burner. It’s our time. Strike with us.
onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
In just a few weeks, they’ve organized Earth Day Live, a three-day, nationwide mobilization to strike, divest, and vote—all while socially distancing.
Jerome Foster II is the 17-year-old helming the Fridays for Future strike in Washington, D.C., the founder of the OneMillionOfUs movement to mobilize young voters, and the voice of a generation demanding climate action now.
Tips for discussing the basic facts, answering tough questions, and helping your kids cope with climate anxiety—even when you, too, are feeling overwhelmed.
We don’t want to jinx it, but with the Youth Climate Strike it sort of looks like . . . yes. (Finally.)
On March 15, students around the world will walk out of their schools and speak as one, demanding climate action—and our attention.
And this team of Brooklyn-based grassroots activists helping to hold the world’s five largest investor-owned fossil fuel producers to account isn’t easily intimidated.
As far as future-building strategies go, Greta Thunberg’s passionate optimism beats Jonathan Franzen’s placid pessimism any day.
The Climate Museum’s poetry slam at Harlem’s Apollo Theater was equal parts grief, anger, and hope.