Green shoots from growing movements

School strike
Flickr
The youth movement leading the call for climate justice has emerged as one of the most powerful social and political forces in recent memory.

As they begin to organise and put structures in place to support the thousands of young people who want to take action, it will be up to the rest of the environmental justice movement to support them every step of the way with our networks and voices.

We don’t need to tell you that something has been bubbling up over the last three months. Rather than under the surface, this energy has burst to the fore with vigour unseen in recent times.

Their youthful outlook, limitless and interconnected world - unlocked by technology and the organising potential of social media - makes for a fresh approach and a movement that’s not only diverse, but borderless and frenetic.

Across the UK - and spanning the globe - the youth movement leading the call for climate justice has emerged as one of the most powerful social and political forces in recent memory, leaving many behind in its wake.

Absences

Given the rapid frequency of mobilisations, strides away from traditional organising, combined with fast-paced decision-making that catches most off-guard, you wouldn’t be expected to know what’s coming next.

Such is the pace and unbounded thinking, the actions these young people take are often spontaneous and powerful. One moment we see primary school children walking across a London bridge chanting together as one, the next thousands are tearing down Whitehall, peacefully blocking roads in Newcastle, or grilling councillors on their climate action plans in an open forum in Truro.

One of the most exciting parts of this movement is how decentralised it is. At the last nationwide mobilisation more than 150 strike locations were registered from Devon to the Highlands.

Many of those organising in their communities managed to persuade whole schools to allow young people to leave their lessons and protest for the climate.

Some risked detentions, unauthorised absences and some received harsh treatment from their schools.

Despite these threats, many have said that they see taking action as a necessary part of their education, something which teaches them about working together, forming a collective and committing to a cause which will define their future.

Leadership

And this is where they demonstrate true moral leadership. They are able to articulate the impacts of climate change not just on themselves but on countries at the frontlines of the climate crisis.

They challenge isolationism, communicating regularly with youth strikers all over the world, supporting other countries and showing solidarity to those where protesting and taking action is even more risky.

Ideas of climate justice, equality, better education and economic change are at the forefront of some of the UK Student Climate Network’s demands which is refreshing and exciting.

These are demands which are even managing to cut through the noise from Brexit in order to force the country and its leaders to take the climate crisis more seriously.

Whilst they have made clear that they are deeply political, they have also stated that they are not party political. They want all parties to commit to treat climate change like the emergency that it is and respond accordingly.

As Greta Thunberg herself said: "I want you to panic." 

Deep vision

While in the past climate change campaigning has perhaps tried to use less challenging language, they are speaking plainly, and are forcing politicians to meet them on their terms.

Now they have had all party leaders apart from Theresa May offering to meet with them, whilst the Conservative Environment Network released a special video with Michael Gove and Claire Perry praising their efforts.

In forcing Cabinet ministers to respond so quickly they have again pushed the climate debate into a new dimension.

Of course, Greta Thunberg has inspired huge numbers by her solo school strike since last summer.

Many have also been closely following and inspired by the Sunrise movement in the United States, so it is no surprise that this movement is calling for a broad and deep vision of the future by demanding a Green New Deal for the UK too.

Labour

Young people have the imagination and moral clarity to know that it is possible to both tackle the climate crisis and create a fairer world, addressing the root causes of the issue at hand, our current economic system.

Such transformative change here in the UK would be guided by five principles. Perhaps more pertinently, climate and social justice minimum standards.

These principles encapsulate the urgency of the climate crisis, and the scale at which it must be addressed.

Policy would be implemented to ensure rapid decarbonisation of the UK economy at the same time as the creation of millions of well paid, secure and meaningful jobs as part of a just transition for those in high emissions sectors.

This is not only vital for those that will be affected, but will be a defining part of any deal to gain the support of the organised labour movement. It’s not a case of environment or jobs, it’s a symbiosis of the two.

Luxury

Where a Green New Deal differs from mainstream and often market-based solutions to the climate crisis is that it combines social and economic justice alongside environmental protection.

It will be based upon a massive reduction in social and economic inequality, targeting investment in communities that have already suffered from current and historic oppression and economic deprivation.

Moving away from market-based solutions and technological fixes is a recognition of the need for protection and restoration of vital habitats and carbon sinks.

In creating a more equitable and just world, the protection of nature in this way would ensure provision of green spaces, clean air, water and a healthy environment for all; a far cry from the current unequal access in our current system that treats the above as a luxury or commodity, rather than a right.

Galvanizing

Additionally, a Green New Deal would build and create a resilient society that’s prepared for the inevitable effects of unavoidable climate change, protecting the most vulnerable in our communities, those that have too long been routinely structurally oppressed.

If designed and implemented properly - by the people, for the people - a Green New Deal has the potential to be a galvanizing idea that truly inspires people to organise together at the scale required to create a better world.

So what is next for this emergent political and moral force to be reckoned with? What is clear is that they are not going away. They have ambition to keep using creative and surprising tactics to push leaders further.

As they begin to organise and put structures in place to support the thousands of young people who want to take action, it will be up to the rest of the environmental justice movement to support them every step of the way with our networks and voices.

What we have seen over the last few months builds on the work done by movements before it and takes it to the next level. It should not be taken for granted. The opportunity to push for real and lasting political and systemic change is right here.

This movement are proving themselves to be resilient, focused and with a solid strategy which will push their radical demands for a better, fairer future into the centre of mainstream politics. And we can’t wait to watch them do it.

The Authors

Hannah Martin is a climate activist organising in support of YouthStrike4Climate and a Green New Deal and tweets at @Hannah_RM. Jake Woodier is a climate campaigner organising with the UK Student Climate Network and tweets at @JakeWoodier.

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