From simple beginnings in Sweden, Friday will see the start of a global week of protest and action on climate change, led by children.
When I met Greta Thunberg briefly at the climate summit in Katowice last year, I thanked her for all she was doing to bring attention to the need for more climate action. At that point, she had been holding her own personal climate strike outside the Swedish Parliament for five months. This had begun a global movement of school children striking for the climate and she was in Poland to give a speech in front of the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres. Quite a thing for a 15-year-old.
Since then and now 16, she has spoken at the World Economic Forum, to EU leaders and in front of huge crowds. And she has just sailed across an ocean so she can speak at the UN climate summit in New York next week. Politicians who care about climate change are queuing up to be seen with her and on Friday she was protesting outside the White House with thousands of US students.
Some of the negative reactions to Greta have been grotesque. When she was sailing across the Atlantic, Brexit campaign funder Arron Banks wrote his disgusting “freak yacht accident” tweet. Others mocked her Asperger’s syndrome. The reaction she has provoked, often from middle-aged, right-wing men, shows they think she is a threat to their version of the world and reveals how vile some of those who oppose action on climate change really are.
The movement she started has gone from strength to strength, becoming the largest youth-led movement ever. There have been school strikes across the world and a week of action starts this Friday with millions of people – children and adults this time – expected to take part in thousands of marches, rallies and strikes in 150 countries.
On Friday, there will be climate strikes in at least 17 places in Scotland, including marches with thousands of people expected in Edinburgh and Glasgow. In a massive misjudgement, Edinburgh council refused permission for the march there to travel along a short stretch of Princes Street and even threatened that the organisers could be arrested. The council has now apologised for making that threat. This refusal was particularly disgraceful given there were, at one point, 40 sectarian marches planned in Glasgow with the associated heavy policing, and more than 20 streets in Edinburgh closed for filming a film about racing fast cars. Fast cars are apparently more important than saving the planet. The irony.
I’ve been outside Parliament several times to see the climate strikes including the two big rallies, one with about 7,000 young people. The children had organised all this themselves.
I’ll let you into a secret. I’ve been to lots of rallies and marches in my life but in the last decade I can’t usually be bothered to listen to the speeches, it mostly feels like I’ve heard it all before. But the children outside Parliament gave speech after speech that was really worth listening to.
I’ll be there again this Friday because it is really inspiring and heart-warming to see the people whose future we are all trashing saying they’ve had enough and they want action.
If you can come on Friday, please join your local strike. If you can’t come, please find time to mark the Global Climate Strike in whatever way you can. I hope to see you on the streets.
Dr Richard Dixon is director of Friends of the Earth Scotland