A major climate change revolution has swept across Europe, with teenage women leading the charge. On Friday, February 15, thousands of European students played hooky from school in order to protest their country’s climate laws and demand action. According to a New York Times report, demonstrations were held in England, France, Germany, Belgium, Sweden, Switzerland, and Ireland, to name a few.
Similar demonstrations have been gaining popularity in the recent months, since beginning in Sweden last year. 16-year-old climate change activist, Greta Thunberg, has been skipping school once a week since September, staging sit-ins at the Swedish Parliament to demand government action for climate change reform. Thunberg was invited to speak at the United Nations COP24 summit in December of 2018 and in her speech urges her generation to act quickly, as the state of our planet is rapidly declining. Speaking on behalf of Climate Justice Now, she said, “We have come here to let you know that change is coming, whether you like it or not. The real power belongs to the people.” And in the viral video that has inspired many of the protests, Thunberg says, “We are on a school strike for the climate. … We urge everyone to do the same wherever you are…Sit outside your Parliament or local government building until your nation is on a safe pathway to a below two-degree warming target.”
Through the unstoppable force that is social media, Thunberg has been urging her peers, worldwide, to stand up for climate change reform before it is too late. And her efforts have been nothing short of successful.
Inspired by Thunberg’s passion and drive to better the planet, Youth Strike 4 Climate was founded in Britain and has grown rapidly since its establishment. The group estimated that about 15,000 school-aged children took part in the protests, which occurred in 60 towns and cities across the UK on Friday, according to the BBC.
Belgian students, Anuna De Wever and Kyra Gantois, have staged some of the largest and most dramatic of these climate reform protests, all of which started from having posted a viral video on social media. De Wever told Buzzfeed News that her and Gantois only expected a handful students to show up for the first protest in January, but were shocked when 3,000 showed up on the day of the march. She said, “When we started it, Kyra and me, we thought it would be just 20 people, I’m so thankful to my generation that they really care about it.” The protests have grown to include almost 30,000 people and occur every Thursday across the country.
22-year-old Luisa Neubauer has become the leader of Germany’s climate strike, actively speaking out against the country’s coal mining industry, along with 25-year-old activist Nike Mahlhaus and her organization, Ende Gelände (Land’s End). Both Mahlhaus and Neubauer have been critical of the state of gender equality in their county and the fact that women have not been included in many of the country’s climate discussions. Mahlhaus said, “The men who comment there are the white middle-aged men who keep this system running by thinking that there is no other option…It hurts to realize that they have the power to define what is radical and what is reasonable, what is appropriate and what is insane, who we have to respect and who not.”
And the movement doesn’t end in Europe. Across the US, women are standing up for climate change reform and demanding to be part of the global conversation. Jamie Margolin, founder of the climate reform group, Zero Hour, has been working to lead a similar movement to those occurring across Europe, here in the US. The group kicked off their efforts with a leading climate march in Washington, with sister marches that occurred across the country, this past July. Since then, 20 core members of Zero Hour have met with federal lawmakers to discuss their climate platform and encourage other teenagers to speak out and demand change.
The protests have met opposition by world leaders, but that hasn’t deterred these women to give up the fight. In an interview with Buzzfeed News, Margolin explains that climate activism has given young women the chance to be heard. She says, “There aren’t very many spaces that I can be in charge of, and what I’m going to say is going to be heard…If you’re a victim of a system of oppression, you’re more affected by the climate crisis — that goes for women. Nobody is going to hand us this. We have to step up and raise our voices.”