Becoming aware of the massive impact we are having on the world around us seems to be a big pause-point in most young people’s lives. As time continues however, the overwhelming amount of information surrounding the crisis simply acts to dull the senses. From Newspaper headlines describing the dire fate of the planet in explicit detail, to Instagram sensations promoting a vegan lifestyle, constant updates about our impending doom are just a part of everyday life. It’s easy to ignore them and carry on as before, but Greta Thurnberg of Sweden decided that the easiest course of action was not ok and set about empowering young people to inspire change.
Sixteen year old Greta started her protesting career by striking for three weeks outside the Swedish parliament, lobbying MPs to comply with the Paris Agreement. Following the Swedish election, she now strikes every Friday and has inspired young people from Australia, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and countless others to take part. The fifteenth of February saw the first UK wide National Youth Strike 4Climate, with four St Andrews Students joining the protest outside The Scottish Parliament Building.
Leo was the instigator of our contingent- she created a group chat saying, in no uncertain terms, how it was our duty to go and strike in the name of our future. Despite inviting many people, four of us set off on the bus to Edinburgh at 8.50 AM, arriving at Princess street with enough time to stash bags at the bus station and head off to find the Edinburgh University contingent, whose signs were embarrassingly better than our bits of cardboard.
Walking down the Royal Mile towards the protest was exciting, but when we got there, the amount of energy emanating from young people standing up for their planet was overwhelming. Children as young as 5 were taking part and one particularly strong girl amazed us with her ‘’Stay Green, Keep clean!’’ chant. Banners, signs and posters were help aloft and accompanied with intermittent chanting of their slogans. A personal favourite was ‘’What do we Want?!’’; ‘’Action!’’. ‘’When do we want it?!’’; ‘’now!’’.
The protest quickly moved next to the road, with teenagers taking up positions on bollards and in between, receiving a huge number of positive and supportive responses from the drivers of cars up to open-top tour buses. Leaving the scene took a while and we very reluctantly walked away with massive grins on our faces and a little more hope in our hearts.
So what is the outcome of these protests? According to the BBC, a Downing Street spokeswoman said whilst it was important for young people to engage with issues like climate change, the disruption to planned lesson time was damaging for pupils. On the flip side of the coin, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said schoolchildren were “right to feel let down by the generation before them”, and Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said it was the “most hopeful thing that’s happened in years”.
Even just grabbing the attention of people in the highest political positions goes to show how powerful the protesting has been. Young people have an extraordinary capacity to affect the future of the planet, and if it’s left to us to deal with the consequences of several hundred years of unsustainable and damaging growth. The very least we can do is stand to ask for change. Mahatma Ghandi once said, ‘’Be the change you wish to see in the World’’, and if these young people define the future, there may just be hope yet.
If you’re inspired, the next UK wide protest will be on Friday 15th March. We hope to see you there! There are also loads of ways to get involved with the environmental movement in St Andrews, from Skill Shares and Community gardens under Transition to helping Plastic Free St Andrews, taking part in beach cleans, going to Green Drinks, cutting out single use plastics and encouraging others to do the same. The St Andrews branch of Extinction Rebellion are also looking for new people to help their campaign. You can get in touch with any of these groups via Facebook or other online platforms.