‘’When you were my age did you know what climate change meant?!’’ These were the cries from an eight year old climate activist standing in front of close to 10,000 of protestors assembled in Merrion Square last Friday 20th September. Those present nodded and cheered passionately, brandishing posters with angry declarations chastising the government for their apparent apathy towards the climate crisis and lack of affirmative climate action. The sentiments ranged from ‘’Grandparents for Climate Action!’, ‘’I can’t believe I’m protesting FACTS!!’’ to ‘’I’m missing my lessons to teach you a lesson!’’.
The Irish crowds were not alone, as across the world approximately 2,300 Strike for Climate protests were staged in over 130 countries. The assembly of climate protestors seen in Dublin last Friday occurred in solidarity to Greta Thunberg, the young activist behind the school strike for climate global movement.
It all started about a year ago, when Swedish teen Greta, then an unknown 15 year old school girl,decided that she would skip school and protest outside the Swedish government buildings, disillusioned with the government’s insufficient action regarding climate change. Her reasoning? If the adults leading the world don’t care about her future, then why should she? Her actions garnered attention and a new climate movement was born: Fridays for Future. The idea is that students will continue to strike every Friday, reflecting Greta’s message. Greta’s honesty regarding her feelings of despair, anxiety and anger in the wake of her understanding the effects of anthropogenic activity on the natural world resonated with the burgeoning number of climate activists. Greta served as a catalyst for the explosive expansion of the youth voice in the climate change debate.
It has become glaringly apparent that age has nothing to do with lack of understanding of the urgency of climate change. While protestors as young as seven shouted, cried and stomped their feet for a brighter future, An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was busy opening a new runway in Dublin airport. While An Taoiseach is the leader of the Irish political climate, his actions show a clear lack of direction regarding our changing climate.
One could despair at the irony of our own Taoiseach supporting the expansion of the Irish aviation industry, one of the most carbon polluting industries, while citizens flood the streets in frustration over the lack of stern action on climate. However, this is the kind of hypocrisy that led to these protests. As Greta Thunberg highlighted when addressing the EU Commission earlier this year: “We are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction, and the extinction rate is 10,000 times faster than what is considered normal, with up to 200 species becoming extinct every single day.’’
“Erosion of fertile topsoil, deforestation of our forests, toxic air pollution, loss of insects and wildlife, the acidification of our oceans; these are all disastrous trends being exhilarated by a way of life that we, in our financially fortunate part of the world, see as our ‘right’ to simply carry on,” she added.
If last Friday’s protest demonstration and indeed the ongoing public debate regarding climate change are anything to go by; it is clear that citizens are listening to the warnings from scientists and turning their fear and despair into anger and action.
The protests mark the beginning of a week of heightened climate activism from September 20th-27th as people urge governments to double their efforts for climate action. In the wake of increasing pressure being placed upon governments regarding climate action world leaders have gathered in New York for a Climate Action Summit. An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was set to address the summit on Monday 23rd September. The current Climate Action Plan for Ireland, according to Friends of the Earth director, Oisin Coghlan leaves much to be desired in realistically achieving the goals set out by the Paris Agreement. Climate activists may get some solace over the next week as details emerge of the new climate action plan for Ireland and the near 200 other countries represented at the summit.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres made a clear statement to those world leaders attending; ‘’Don’t come with a speech. Come with a plan.’’ A sentiment that any climate activist can identify with.
The science of climate change is no longer limited to scientific journals as citizen scientists and activists have taken the role of advocating for the scientists whose message has been undermined for decades. The science may finally be taken seriously and perhaps someday soon, our government leaders will also repeat the chant of the Irish protesters; ‘’Keep the carbon in the soil. No more coal. No more oil!!’’
WATCH: some footage and interviews made during Galway and Dublin’s strikes