Teenage activism has been on the rise in recent years, a phenomenon that has quite possibly been spurred on by the increasing level of access juveniles have to resources, both scholarly and journalistic. In fact, studies indicate that as many as 88% of U.S. teens aged 13-17 have access to a cellular device. Perhaps this youth technological revolution can account for the star-like rise of sixteen-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg, a Swedish student who just one year ago was striking by herself outside of the United Nations headquarters. Thunberg has since been joined by millions of youths professing their affiliation with the appropriately-named “Global Climate Strike,” a movement dedicated to protesting the effects that climate change will ostensibly have on the generation that has yet to reach adulthood.
On Friday, September 20, the worldwide coalition of school-aged activists officially went on strike, skipping school to unite in what became the largest global climate rally in history. Early estimates indicate that more than four million students came together in cities across the world, with the largest rallies boasting a total of over 250,000 individuals, as estimated by those present at the protest in New York City, where school administrators and the mayor came together to ensure that every public school student was able to obtain an excused absence to participate in the demonstration. The protest was timed to coincide with the start of the United Nations Climate Action Summit. Thunberg herself attended the rally in New York City after completing a 15-day voyage by boat, labelled a “carbon-neutral transatlantic crossing” in an attempt to draw attention to a physical manifestation of the teen’s proposal for reduced carbon emissions, especially in regards to travel, both international and domestic.
Michigan teenagers also took part in the global demonstration of generational solidarity with smaller, grassroots movements as close to home as Holland, Michigan. About 100 participants in a group comprised of students and chaperones marched down 8th Street wielding signs and chanting in order to draw attention to the crises posed by a warming environment. Other local organizations, such as the Holland Area Citizens Climate Lobby and Holland United Church of Christ, joined in the efforts.
The words of local youth organizer Hannah Hugget sum up the overarching narrative of the Global Climate Strike: “We may be only a tiny percent of the population, but we are 100 percent of the future.” While most of the participants in the movement are still too young to be included as a demographic in survey results, a 2018 Gallup poll found that younger generations are increasingly likely to view climate change as a serious threat. 88% of those who identify as both Democrats and Millennials agree with the statement, “I am worried about climate change.” Although only 45% of Republican Millennials taking part in the survey agreed with the statement, this number still lies in stark contrast to the 31% of Republican Baby Boomers who personally felt as though climate change will be a threat.
These results echo the concerns of Thunberg and her young comrades, whose primary concern is that adults do not take seriously the effects of climate change because they will not have to deal with the fallout in their lifetime, whereas school-aged children will come of age in a world marked by what climate scientists indicate will be rising seas and increasing temperatures; shorter growing seasons and regression of the Arctic ice caps and Siberian permafrost. It is evident that regardless of how the Earth’s ecosystems and human settlements are affected by changes to the climate, the students involved in Global Climate Strike are indeed growing up in a world shaped not only by factors outside of their control but by their passion and resolve that has manifested itself in what is possibly the foremost youth movement of the modern era.