Three months after the global mobilization on March 15th initiated by 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, “Fridays for Future” youth strikes are still going strong. Indeed, if there is one thing this movement has proven not to be, it is not to be just a trendy hashtag. Leading up to the worldwide protests—on March 15th, May 24th and the upcoming September 20th—students in thousands of cities have been relentlessly working behind the scenes to organise smaller strikes.
As the movement grew, it also gained in diversity: youth organisers everywhere are becoming more and more cognizant of intersectionality in climate action. This stems from a shared realization that climate change affects different groups to varying degrees.
We asked student activists from two different countries to ponder the question: “What does climate justice mean to you?”, and received some interesting answers.
Youth Strike Canada: Race, Migration & Climate in The Great White North
From the very first days of their movement, youths in Canada have been aware that those who pollute most are not those most affected by climate damage. Their seven demands include one for indigenous rights and one for the protection of vulnerable groups. This last calls on authorities to recognize “Canada’s disproportionate role in the climate crisis and subsequent responsibility for the protection of the most vulnerable,” as well as “climate displacement as a basis for refugee status.”
Student activist Emma Lim from Sir Frederick Banting Secondary School, Climate Strike Canada’s key organizer for Ontario, elaborates on the group’s view. “Climate justice is migrant justice,” she said. On June 16th, the youth group collaborated with the Migrant Justice Network to organize a series of “Unite Against Racism” rallies and marches. Lim explained: “Migrant justice is a core value we stand for as youth strikers in Canada, and also the Green New Deal Canada, which we support.”
Lim has been striking since November 2018, when she was the only one in her town to do so. Every Friday, the seventeen-year-old would sit outside her town hall, even in the brutal Toronto rain and snow.
“When I started, there was no local community group,” Lim recalled. Soon enough though, others started joining her, and by March 15th Climate Strike Canada boasted 160,000 youths in 65 locations taking to the streets. Nowadays, Lim still walks out of school every Friday afternoon, but she is accompanied by at least twenty other students from her area.
And numbers are only growing. Preparations have begun for the September 20-27th Global Strike, and Climate Strike Canada is anticipating hundreds of thousands for the week of action. They are also talking to labor unions and trying to convince store owners to close down their business operations.
Not everyone has been so supportive of the movement, however; 17-year-old Sophie Price from East Northumberland Secondary School, Brighton, spoke about being verbally attacked on social media.
“My town is small and quite conservative, it took a lot to convince people to believe climate change is real,” Price said. “I got a lot of hate comments [on Facebook posts]; I wasn’t expecting any of it so it was a bit of a shock.”
But what doesn’t kill them makes them stronger, as the saying goes. Throughout the ordeal, Price has learnt that the best way to counter doubt is with concrete facts. “Instead of just saying ‘You’re wrong,” I would say “Hey, I get where you’re coming from, but maybe you should check out this video,” she said.
Climate Strike Canada is involved in the Leap tour, a series of events organized by a coalition of the same name, to raise awareness and rally support for the Green New Deal. Their very first event, which took place Tuesday, June 11th, at the Bloor Street United Church, sold out to a sympathetic and passionate audience.
“The next step is getting more government officials involved so they know what we’re doing. We’ll mostly send out emails, go to places where they’re speaking, get the public more involved,” Price said. “Climate justice is getting justice for the environment—we’ve burnt so much fossil fuel and littered and done a lot of harm, so we obviously need to fix that.”
The twelfth-grader, like many other Canadian students in the movement, somehow manages to carry on with her activism while preparing for her finals next week.
Trees, Trains, Tribes, & Fridays for Future Mumbai
Meanwhile, Fridays for Future (FFF) Mumbai has been calling for a different type of climate justice. Some of the group’s most pressing concerns revolve around the Indian government’s disregard for natural ecosystems and the creatures dependent on them. Students take to Marine Drive, the 3.6-kilometer boulevard outlining the coast of Backbay, to educate passerby on how climate change is impacting marine animals.
“I’ve seen so much news about animals dying—that’s the reason why I’m involved in this,” said Chahat Yadav, a third-year student in Zoology at D.G. Ruparel College, member of FFF Mumbai. “I want to be able to live with animals in the future, and I know that wouldn’t be possible with climate change.” India ranks 14th on the latest Climate Risk Index evaluation announced at COP24. Recently the country has been hit by irregular tropical cyclones and floods.
Yadav elaborated on the injustice he is seeing. “Animals are not contributing at all to climate change,” he said. “Because of us, these creatures that cannot speak are being affected; climate justice is making sure animals have a future.”
Aside from striking, the youth of Mumbai have also promoted petitions for animals rights, including one that protests the cutting down of 3500 trees in Aarey Forest. Lying at the heart of Mumbai, Aarey was originally a 3000-acre forest that was reduced to only 1300 acres due to the conversion to agricultural land. In addition, the area is also home to one of the Maharashtra’s oldest tribes, the Warlis. Now, Aarey is under further threat from development projects, including a Metro train car-shed and ironically, a zoo.
Tarun Mediratta, a FFF Mumbai organizer from St. Andrews’ College who had participated in the Aarey strikes, expressed his outrage. “People living around [Arrey] have always opposed these projects,” he said. “[The government] said they’d only cut down 700 trees. What happens is they send people to cut over 3500 trees at night when no one is around to witness.”
Mediratta has been involved in the climate movement since eighth grade. Since joining FFFMumbai in March, the eighteen-year-old has been involved in organizing strikes at the most crowded locations in the city with concise messages and concrete demands.
“India is facing an acute water crisis, there are people who walk 10km per day just to fetch a bucket of water. The word development is being misused,” Mediratta concluded. “Climate justice is when policymakers frame and implement policies that promote sustainable living for everyone.”
This article is part of a three month-long weekly series of updates we will be posting about the youth climate movement, written by CT staff and the student strikers themselves. There will be much action worldwide leading up to the September 20th Global Youth Strike, which directly precedes the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit. Check our youth Facebook page for more updates.