On 20 September, in more than sixty countries across the world, young people will be striking from school to raise awareness of the climate emergency and demand that Governments act more quickly to reduce use of fossil fuels, move to sustainable renewable energy sources and bring forward clear plans to achieve future net zero carbon dioxide emissions. These young people’s school strikes have been happening for over a year now and were begun back in August 2018 by the Swedish school girl Greta Thunberg. However this 20 September strike is different. For the first time young people are asking for adults to show their support by joining them in a Global Climate Strike. 20 September has been chosen very deliberately as it three days before the United Nations Climate Action Summit.
Whatever you think of this strike it’s clear that over the past year public awareness of environmental issues, and in particular the need for urgent action on climate change, has shifted. Changing how people think about issues and moving the baseline of how people en masse look at the world is one of the hardest things to achieve. Ask any politician! But change is happening.
I would not claim to know why this is happening now, or what the drivers of change are. I’m sure one factor is extreme weather – increased storminess and temperature records being broken on what seems like an annual basis - are exactly what climate change scientists have been warning of. Both locally and globally weird weather, from droughts to floods, and from tropical cyclones like Dorian, that has devastated parts of the Bahamas, or closer to home the extreme rainfall that threatened the dam above Whalley Bridge are making climate change all to real. It’s no longer just an abstract theory but something we are all directly experiencing. Equally this year’s widely reported fires in the Amazon and the graphic televison images of our oceans polluted with plastic make the scale of our impacts on the global environment both obvious and disturbing. Film, from programmes like the BBC’s Blue Planet series, of turtles, whales and albatrosses dying from ingested plastic quite literally bring the global biodiversity crisis into our living rooms.
At last something is beginning to change the climate of opinion on these issues. Whether it’s Greta Thunberg’s now global school strikes movement, or the public awareness work of Wildlife Trusts and many other environmental organisations over many years, it does seem at last the message is getting through.
By keeping climate change and environmental issues at the forefront of the news, we can empower politicians and world leaders to take the difficult economic and policy decisions that are needed to ensure a rapid reduction in global carbon dioxide emissions. Real action to reverse the damage that is happening to our planetary environment is urgently needed. At last we are calling it a climate and environmental emergency and not just climate change.
We should all care about these issues, and those with a love of wildlife should be among the first to take action. So perhaps the best way we can support our young people on 20 September is firstly to listen to what they are telling us and then most importantly of all to make the changes in how we live that ensure a sustainable, healthy, wildlife-rich planet is there for future generations.
Whether we agree with the strike or not let’s all take some time out on 20 September to think how we can be part of the solution and not just part of the problem.
David North is Head of People and Wildlife at NWT