Greta Thunberg is a climate activist, thought leader, and global phenomenon fighting for change. She was recently nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and inspired a global movement of youths who staged protests all around the world including Asia. She’s also addressed the United Nations Climate Change Conference, spoke in front of the World Economic Forum, convinced her family to become vegan and give up flying. Did we mention she is only 16? What were you doing when you were 16?
When I was 16, I had a crush, looked for ways to skip math classes, and worked part-time at a coffee shop so I could buy my own clothes (probably to try and impress said crush). Do you recall what were you doing at that age? Probably battling curfews with your parents?
Who is Greta Thunberg?
Introducing Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish student with Aspergers who has taken to battling climate change, not curfews. Since August of last year, after her country failed to comply with the Paris Climate Agreement, she’s been skipping classes and spending her Friday afternoons staging solo sit-ins outside of Swedish parliament to protest climate change. Fast forward a few months and her actions have inspired students around the world to do the same with
Just ahead of the mobilizations last week, the teenage political activist was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by 3 Norwegian MPs. Should she win, she would be the youngest recipient of the prize since 17-year-old Malala Yousafzai. Of the nomination, Norwegian Socialist MP Freddy André Øvstegård said to The Guardian, “we have proposed Greta Thunberg because if we do nothing to halt climate change, it will be the cause of wars, conflict, and refugees. Greta Thunberg has launched a mass movement which I see as a major contribution to peace.”
Internationally coordinated “strikes”
Thunberg has struck a chord with youths all over the world frustrated with the slow pace of change when it comes to slowing climate change and last Friday, March 15th, students all over the world walked out of classes in a global protest. Strikes led by students unfolded in more than 100 cities worldwide from Australia, Germany, the United States, and even in Hong Kong and Singapore. It’s estimated that 1.5 million students stood in solidarity for the movement, which has been aptly called #FridaysForFuture and #SchoolStrike4Climate.
Here’s how the day unfolded across Asia:
As part of the planned protests last week, a rally took place in Hong Kong and saw upwards of 1,000 students join together to urge Hong Kong’s own government to jump-start action against climate change. Taking Greta’s lead, the youth activists marched from Chater Garden in Central to the government’s headquarters in Admiralty.
Earlier in the week, students had published a list of demands online that included asking the government to establish a youth committee to help fight climate change on an island plagued by frequent typhoons and rising sea levels. The statement read: “It could be a great advantage to have youth representation for climate change in Hong Kong as this would allow future generations to have a voice and more control over our collective future.”
In Singapore, where laws prevent public assembly, students took their protest online and planned a virtual campaign with hashtags like #climatestrike and #climateactionsg to encourage leaders to take action against climate change. “Due to the stringent regulations on public protests and strikes in Singapore, we went with a digital “strike” to encourage participation and capture our urgent and collaborative spirit for climate policy in Singapore on 15th March and show solidarity with the global youths,” said Pamela Low and Woo Qiyun from Singapore.
“The climate strike was intended to be a platform for youths to rally and voice their desire for the actions they wished to see taken in lieu of the imminent climate change,” they added. “We figured we could capture the spirit of our generation with the digital strike and most importantly, without compromising participation. We received about 279 responses on our climate strike poll (link) and over 200 Instagram stories and 50 Instagram and Facebook posts, combined we achieved thousands of impressions in a short time. The participation and support of youths, small businesses and local celebrities in this movement to call for change urgently is encouraging and we will build on the momentum, consolidate our results into a report and are open to consultations with relevant agencies.”
With Thailand being one of the world’s biggest ocean polluters, a small crowd of about 60 students stood outside of Government House in Bangkok holding signs that campaigned against plastic pollution and other activists found each other in downtown Bangkok. A 17-year-old member of student-led group Grin Green International named Thiti Usanakul told the Straits Times that “as youth who will inherit the land, we gather here to demand that the government work with us to solve these problems.”
More than 100 students in Seoul stood with recycled signs with slogans like Too Warm 4 School and Don’t deny climate change.
A small number of students gathered in front of the presidential palace in Taipei including 12-year-old Yang Tzy-Ching who took part in the global climate protest and his government’s inaction.
About 100 students marched through the Aoyama, Harajuku, and Shibuya districts of Tokyo carrying signs in various languages. Standing in front of the United Nations University in Shibuya Ward, a 21-year-old university junior said to Asahi: “Although young people around the world are raising their voices, interest in Japan is low. We should take action while there is still time to implement countermeasures.”
Calling all youths
Last week’s strikes further prove that one small person with one big idea can indeed make a change after the movement became one of the largest environmental protests in the world. But it’s certainly not the first time that youths have taken a stance (and certainly won’t be the last). 18-year-old Bali-based activist Melati Wijsen has been fighting plastic pollution since she was 12 when she began an initiative called Bye Bye Plastic Bags. Her plight proves the importance of youths using their voice who might otherwise not have a chance to make an impact in areas like voting.
“Young people around the world are rising, uniting and becoming stronger than any force resistant to change,” said Wijsen. “Millions of students are taking this opportunity to have their voices heard. We are all done waiting. Tired of the excuses that stop real impact from happening. Our generation is the one that is experiencing everything at such intensity. And we are also the last generation to do something about it. Education is also a topic which I believe plays a strong role in these strikes, next to the demand for climate action, it’s also proving that we need a universal change in the education system. Gathering with that many young people are teaching us more than any textbook ever could. So now, we’re taking it into our own hands and becoming leaders of change.”
“We are change,” she added.
Hero image via AP