Children are boycotting school, replacing education with another issue. From Australia’s Gold Coast to the streets of Brussels, kids are concerned about the changes we are seeing to the world’s climate and want to make their voices heard to their politicians — yet noting is stirring in the UK. With a protest planned on the 15th of February, I ask: where have the British children been and what has stopped them from swapping the classroom for the streets?
This is how, 16-year old, Greta Thunberg spoke to an audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month. She did not leave much to the imagination and has made the world sit up as she expressed her alarm on climate change.
In the last few months, Ms. Thunberg has become a figurehead for a larger environmental movement of schoolchildren. She was the first to coin the phrase ‘Skolstrejk för klimatet’ or ‘school strike for climate’ in August 2018, and since then others have joined. With most of its energy originating online, children across Northern Europe and Australia, have walked out of schools and through their cities to raise awareness for what they see as the most urgent issue: Global Warming.
In November 2018, the Australian PM, Scott Morrison said:
Australian children ignored their Prime Minister and that month, an estimated 30,000 children left school to chant, march and campaign for climate action. This is a generation of motivated children — well, in Australia at least.
Since then, tens of thousands of children left school to protest environmental inertia, including marches in Belgium, Switzerland and Germany. Then at the WEF in Davos, we had Greta Thunberg’s speech mentioned in the opening line that sounded like the words of a passionate climate specialist, and not a 16-year-old student. Since then, Belgian and Swiss kids have left school again, and to date over 100,000 children are recorded as taking part. All this action across the globe, but almost a total apathy from British school children.
As I write this, a national boycott has been scheduled for the 15th of February in London, Glasgow, and Cardiff and whilst I am sceptical, I am interested to see how effective this will be. Yet, what factors explain the delayed response of British children? This is an interconnected global movement that has swept up the enthusiasm of children around the world. So why is it that children of this nation are so numb?
As mentioned, the focus of these protests has been in Australia and across Northern Europe, which is significant. Unlike the UK, parts of Northern Europe and Australia will inevitably be impacted more seriously in the early stages of a rising sea level, and the children there it appears are concerned. For example, The Weather Channel states that 47 per cent of Netherlands’ population is at risk, but in the UK it is just 4 per cent. Meanwhile, in Australia there is already severe damage to the most beautiful natural habitats, like their coral reefs and rainforests. Australia also regularly confronts severe droughts causing wild bushfires, and the death of crucial livestock. The UK just does not suffer comparable incidents, and without the warning signs our children may be sheltered from what is happening around the world. Sadly, this may help to dampen any effective social action by British children in the school strike for climate movement.
There is also a lack of exposure to this movement in the British media and this will have kept children in school. If you search on the BBC, the flagship British news platform, ‘school strike 4 climate’, and leave all options open you get two results and nothing from the BBC’s main headline service. In fact, only The Guardian has given any publicity to this news story. This may be a continuation of the issue above and British journalists also suffer from a similar ‘out of sight out of mind’ approach as the children. And yes, it is true that young children now engage with news in different ways and social media has all but replaced classic news platforms. Yet, not one headline in any of the major news channels is important and this must be factored into explaining an absence of child protests.
Or, is it that British children are not prepared to challenge the things they believe in and are comparably less engaged than their generation around the world? For me, this is the most worrying suggestion. Climate change is such an impending issue and we have seen recently some real impact of our changing climate. The severe weather warnings across Europe with heavy snowfall causing avalanches and the death of two Britons last week, the freak incidents in California last year or the evidence that the last five years have been the world’s warmest since records began, are enough to make one pay attention. The spinning wheel of scientific evidence and catastrophic events scares me, and apparently it scares young children around the world too. So, for the next generation of British children to not have a radical environmentalist approach is concerning, especially when compared to the attitudes of their generation around the world.
The world is getting warmer and for many this is nothing new. The future generations in Australia and Northern Europe have made their stand and, by leaving education for the environment, have stimulated a new discussion. I hope that sooner rather than later British children will join this movement and begin to lead the line with their environmentalist counterparts. If so, 2019 can be a positive year for our environment, as children continue to reach out and grab the debate.