National walkouts from schools, colleges and universities on Friday are taking the fight to the government over climate change, writes Elaine Graham-Leigh
On Friday 15th February, young people across the country will be walking out of school or college in protest at lack of action on climate change. Inspired by the Fridays for Future movement started by Swedish student Greta Thunberg, which has seen student strikes from Europe to Australia, the strike has already gained considerable media coverage. In a historic first, this strike also has the backing of the main teaching union, the NEU and of the National Association of Head Teachers.
As the NEU points out, the young people at school today will live their entire lives with the consequences of climate change. It is important though for older generations not to think we’ll be safely out of the way before the reality of climate change hits. After all, as the IPCC reported last year, we now have less than 12 years to avoid the feedback effects which would raise global temperatures to catastrophic levels. As so many of the activists who are organising the strike insist, climate change is no longer an issue for the future; it’s here now.
This strike could be a qualitative jump forward for the campaign against climate change because it's starting to become a genuinely popular movement that is prepared to defy authority. The organisers are absolutely right to be demanding that the question should be treated as an emergency by our government and others around the world. They are also absolutely right too to be taking direct and disruptive action. Given the pitiful response to the crisis that have been made by governments, it is clear that organised action on a massive scale is one thing that is going to be necessary to impose some sense on them. It is good news that Friday's strike is being followed with a further international student strike on 15th March and that activists are even starting to call for an international general strike on 27th September.
While there are some governments explicitly opposed to reducing emissions – Donald Trump’s administration in the US, for example, or Jair Bolsonaro’s in Brazil – most national leaders, including Theresa May, are prepared to talk the talk on climate change. Even the Daily Mail has deplored the youth strike on the grounds that it’s just an excuse for bunking off, and quoted various figures saying that there are better ways for young people to address the issue, but has not so far objected on the grounds that action on climate change is unnecessary.
The movement is right to start demanding action. But we need to go beyond a ‘do something, anything’ position and to start outlining more specific demands, whether that’s renationalising public transport, building public renewable power generation infrastructure, or rejecting the market-led carbon emissions trading models which just allowed a few to get rich off concern for the climate. Our elites' extraordinary complacency stems from blind commitment to the priorities of neoliberal capitalism. We have to recognise that the Tory government’s agenda of austerity and privatisation is the single greatest obstacle in the UK to real action on climate change.
With both the Democrats in the US and Corbyn’s Labour party here developing programmes for government action on a large scale, this is the moment to put forward ambitious demands to deliver the emissions reductions we need and the sort of society we want. As we get more militant we also need to be more political. We are going to have to overturn the priorities of a system which is failing us.
Elaine has been an environmental campaigner for more than a decade. She speaks and writes widely on issues of climate change and social justice, and is a member of Counterfire. She is the author of A Diet of Austerity: Class, Food and Climate Change and her latest book, Marx and the Climate Crisis is out now.
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