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What we can learn from the global school strike for climate

Last March 15, students from around the world participated in a global school strike demanding bold action on climate change. According to estimates by 350.org, more than 1 million students from over 2000 locations in 125 countries participated in the strike. In the Philippines, hundreds of students and supporters gathered in at least 9 locations to show solidarity with the global strike.

The students who participated in the strike are on firm scientific ground. Climate change poses a threat to their future. In fact, it already poses a threat to their present. Sharp reductions in carbon emissions are needed to ensure a livable future.

One of the main inspirations for the movement, 16-year-old Swedish student Greta Thunberg, was recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Last year, Thunberg protested alone in front of the Swedish parliament. This week she was joined by more than a million students. 

“The students who are striking in cities, towns and villages around the world are uniting behind the science,” she writes in The Guardian. “We are only asking that our leaders do the same.”

One of the Filipino students who participated in the global strike was Krishna Ariola. She joined Youth for Climate Hope in a silent protest at the Fountain of Justice in Bacolod City to call for climate action. “Climate change used to be just a lesson in science class, today we are experiencing its effects firsthand,” she said. “But we can’t be paralyzed by fear. That’s why we choose to act.”

Meanwhile, about 150 students from Apu Palamguwan Cultural Education Center in Bukidnon held a 12-kilometer march on mountain terrain to join the global call. High school student Vanessa Flores, who joined the march, talked about the impact of climate change on her community. “It’s not easy to live with an unpredictable climate that affects our crop yield,” she said. “It affects the food security of our family.”

Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a special report summarizing the extent of the climate crisis and laid down various pathways to prevent catastrophe. 

According to the report, which was based on hundreds of independent and reputable scientific studies, climate change will reach catastrophic levels if everything goes on as they are. “Business as usual,” as this path is often described. 

Using a mountain of evidence, the report shows that if we fail to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and instead allow it to reach 2 degrees, the world will be a much more dangerous place for future generations. The report shows that the difference between a warming of 1.5 degrees and 2 degrees is literally a matter of life and death for millions of people. (The current level of warming is around 1 degree Celsius.)

How do we limit warming to 1.5 degrees? According to the report, the world’s carbon emissions must be reduced to almost half by 2030, and to net zero by 2050. With 11 years to go before 2030, we are nowhere near this target. This explains the urgency in the students’ calls.

Kyle Anne Villariza, a student from Miag-ao, Iloilo, helped organize an event in solidarity with the global movement out of this sense of urgency. “I am joining the climate strike because I believe that the call for climate action has long been overdue,” she says. “This is to show that I will stand together with the youth of tomorrow.”

Many top climate scientists have expressed support for the students participating in the worldwide climate strike. 

In an open letter published in Scientific American, climate scientists Peter Kalmus, Kate Marvel, Michael Mann, Katharine Hayhoe, and Kim Cobb declared their support. They write, “Our scientific understanding of the currently observed and projected future climate impacts clearly calls for the transformation of our energy systems and our society at all scales and across all sectors in order to rapidly decarbonize our economy.”

“Ignoring the problem will not make it go away,” the scientists write. “Students’ demand for bold, urgent action are fully supported by the best available science. They need our support, but more than that, they need all of us to act. Their future depends on it; and so does ours.”

With the climate strike movement going global, world leaders are already feeling the heat. 

“My generation has failed to respond properly to the dramatic challenge of climate change,” writes UN secretary general Antonio Guterres in response to the school strikes. “This is deeply felt by young people. No wonder they are angry.” 

The students are striking because they have learned one of the most valuable lesson of all —if we want to live safely, we must act in accordance with the science. It’s time for the rest of us to act on it.

Topics: Pecier Decierdo , climate change , global warming
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