On Friday, March 15, 2019, one of the largest climate actions in history linked hundreds of thousands of young people across the globe protesting lack of action on climate change. Known variously as "school strike for climate" and "student strike for climate action," the movement began in Sweden and was inspired by teenager Greta Thunberg, founder of the Fridays for the Future movement. Greta, age 16, began her protest last August by cycling from her home in Stockholm to sit on the steps of the Swedish Parliament each Friday to protest lack of action on climate change by Swedish politicians. She carried one homemade sign announcing her purpose and on most Fridays sat alone, regardless of the weather. Her actions eventually caught the attention of social media and particularly resonated among other teenagers. It culminated in Friday’s school walkouts in countries around the world, including Germany, Belgium, the UK, France, Australia and Japan. The walkout is thought to be one of the largest climate actions in history. In the interval, Greta was invited to speak at the UN Conference on Climate Change in Katowice, Poland in December, the DAVOS Economic Forum in Switzerland in January and, finally, the meeting of the European Commission in Brussels a few weeks ago.
“We have been born into this world and we have to live with this crisis—and our children and our grandchildren,” Thunberg said to the crowd gathered in Stockholm. “We are facing the greatest existential crisis humanity has ever faced. And yet it has been ignored. You who have ignored it know who you are.”
Br. Kevin Cawley, Executive Director of the Thomas Berry Forum for Ecological Dialogue at Iona College, joined in support at the gathering of approximately 3,000 protestors, mostly high school age students, at Columbus Circe in New York City. They were comprised of the original school strikers as well as Zero Hour youth from the USA, 350.org and the Sunrise Movement. The crowd moved slowly northward and ultimately finished the afternoon on the steps of the Museum of Natural History where the demonstration ended several hours later.
The demonstration brought to mind an early passage in Laudato Si by Pope Francis noting the urgency of our predicament: "Young people demand change. They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded." (13)
Those gathered on March 15 hope to continue to draw attention to the plight of the Earth with steady public pressure and greater and greater numbers of engaged young people to carry the message forward.
(NYC event photos by Kevin Cawley)