Xiuhytexcatl Martinez

Skolstrejk för klimatet — a Children’s Crusade for the 21st century.

Twelve days ago, on March 1st, 150 students with the School Strike for Climate movement, aka #FridaysForFuture, signed a joint letter to the world demand action from their elders — us —to prevent further degradation to the global environment. The movement formed a number of years ago, but it wasn’t until 15-year-old Swedish ninth grader Greta Thunberg staged a one-person protest outside the Swedish Riksdag parliament in late August after a summer of heat waves and wildfires across the Nordic country that the movement gained traction. Thunberg vowed not to return to school until the Swedish general election on Sept. 9. Perhaps it says something about the Swedish education system that schools there were in session long before end end of summer holidays across North America, but that’s the Nordic mindset for you.

©Michael Campanella/The Guardian

©Michael Campanella/The Guardian

As it happened, her protest, while easy to dismiss — Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison famously huffed that these kids today need “more learning in schools and less activism,” thus proving Thunberg’s point about Herberts being completely tone deaf, not just on climate but on any number of other issues — spread like autumn mushrooms in an old-growth forest. By December, student strikes had expanded to nearly 300 cities around the globe, from Australia, Austria and Belgium to Switzerland, Uganda, the UK and the US.

Thunberg herself points to an unlikely source of inspiration for her What-Do-Kids-Know-Anyway protest: the student activists at Parkland, Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who staged their own protest march, March for Our Lives, in the wake of a deadly school shooting earlier that year that claimed 17 lives.

Thunberg, whose bright yellow rainjacket and hand-drawn sign Skolstrejk för klimatet (school strike for the climate) became impossible to overlook outside the Swedish parliament, galvanized school students around the world to take part in student strikes each Friday,  and make their voices heard.

@Washington Post/Getty Images alexandria villasenor

@Washington Post/Getty Images alexandria villasenor

Last month, the movement claimed its first political scalp, a regional environment minister in Belgium, just days before winning endorsements from climate scientists and environmental groups across the Netherlands, Germany and the UK. Flanders politician and then-environment minister Joke Schauvliege resigned on Feb. 5, days after falsely claiming that Belgium’s state security agency had evidence that the school strikes were “a set-up.” Days later, more than 300 Dutch scientists signed an open letter in support of the school strikes, writing, “On the basis of the facts supplied by climate science, the campaigners are right. That is why we, as scientists, support them.

Not to be outdone, on Feb. 13, more than 200 academics across the UK signed a letter in support of the advocacy group Extinction Rebellion, writing that they were giving their “full support to the students” backing the School Strike for Climate movement.

All this is pointing toward Friday’s moment of truth, the most widespread strike yet, endorsed by some of the world’s most pro-active, high-profile environmental groups, with 450 events planned in 54 countries — this, according to the website FridaysForFuture.org.

©Elizabeth Ubbe/The New York Times

©Elizabeth Ubbe/The New York Times

Thunberg was among 150 co-signers of an open letter in The Guardian on March 1st, which read in part, “We finally need to treat the climate crisis as a crisis. It is the biggest threat in human history and we will not accept the world's decision-makers’ inaction that threatens our entire civilization . . . . Climate change is already happening. People did die, are dying and will die because of it, but we can and will stop this madness. . . . We demand the world’s decision-makers take responsibility and solve this crisis. You have failed us in the past. If you continue failing us in the future, we, the young people, will make change happen by ourselves. . .”

It’s easy to pull a Scott Morrison and be cynical about this — what the hell does a 16-year-old know? — but, simply by looking around us with our eyes open and taking in the big picture, it’s easy to see that the environment is ailing and that climate change, while a terrible scourge in itself, may be a symptom of an even wider, more serious malaise. At best, colder winters and hotter summers are an inconvenience — an inconvenient truth, if you will. At worst, they could signal a looming mass extinction — the end of the Anthropocene era, in a blink-of-an-eye compared with how long it took the dinosaurs to die out.

©Lorie Shaull/Wikimedia Commons

©Lorie Shaull/Wikimedia Commons

Seeing the starry-eyed idealism of “the climate kids” and watching the way adult cynics, duplicitous politicians and the slick, self-styled Saurons of the fossil-fuel industry round on Thunberg, Xiuhytexcatl Martinez and others — just as the NRA gun lobby and Republican politicians rounded on the Parkland students before them — it’s hard not to be reminded of historical accounts of the Children’s Crusade in the early 13th century. That was a crusade that ended in catastrophe for the children involved, remember, with  many of them sold into slavery after being tricked by merchants along the way who promised them safe passage to the Holy Land.

A revisionist version published in 1977, by the Dutch historian Peter Raedts, has it that the children were not children at all but rather bands of “wandering poor” from Germany and France who had little intention of ever reaching the Holy Land.

©HIstory Channel/YouTube

©HIstory Channel/YouTube

One thing about climate change, though, if it’s real — and few can now doubt that is, not given the recent paroxysms of climate extremes — is that it won’t be subject to interpretation or revisionism. The effects won’t be limited to a small corner of the globe, or even continental Europe, for that matter. They will be worldwide, global, from pole to pole and from Asia to Australia, taking in Africa and the Americas along the way.

That’s why this particular Children’s Crusade is meaningful. It matters.

Banner image ©Michael Campanella for The Guardian, 2019.


©Elizabeth Ubbe/The New York Times

©Elizabeth Ubbe/The New York Times

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Screen Shot 2019-03-11 at 11.02.01 PM.png

The 'Climate Kids' and #FridaysForFuture: "There is no Planet B."

“One voice can change a room, and if one voice can change a room, then it can change a city,” Barack Obama famously said in his stirring, still memorable speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. “And if it can change a city, it can change a state, it can change nation. And if it can change a nation, it can change the world. Your voice can change the world.”

Little more than a week before the planned worldwide strike on March 15 by students and grade-school pupils protesting the effects of climate change on future generations, support is surging for the legal case Juliana v. United States, in which 21 young people have sued the US federal government over climate change. A “Young People’s Brief” amicus brief was filed in US court last Friday, alongside briefs filed by environmenatlaist, women’s groups, business leaders and eight members of the US Congress in support of a case that has been before the courts for months now. On two separate occasions, US federal administrations — first under Barack Obama and again under Donald Trump — have tried to have the lawsuit tossed out of court. The government has lost both times. A early, lower-court ruling by an Oregion judge, giving legal reasons why the case should be allowed to continue, was appealed to the US Supreme Court twice. Both times, the Supreme Court sided with the climate activists over the government.


Students and school pupils from some 50 countries have said they will rally together in the March 15 demonstration, even as the strike is being dismissed on both the right and left as a cheap publicity gimmick — so much hot air, if you will — and an excuse to skip school for a day.

As it is, school students in Australia, France, the UK, Germany, Ireland, Poland, Thailand, Colombia and Uganda have already skipped a day of school to demand stronger climate action from their governments, as part of 16-year-old Swedish student Greta Thunberg’s #FridaysForFuture climate campaign. Thunberg, who started the whole process as a solo campaigner outside the Swedish parliament last year, has become a lightning rod for both praise and controversy, and has been mentioned as a possible Nobel Peace Prize candidate, and was recently invited to speak at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Some saw this as a cyncial ploy on the part of fat-cat industrialists who have already done their part to wreck the planet, but the truth is that — whether useful idiot or Nobel material — Thunberg herself couldn’t really give a (compost heap) how she’s perceived. The issue is what drives her, and that’s what has made her such a compelling voice for climate activism. She really couldn’t care whether she wins the Nobel Prize or gets to dine at Davos (don’t feed her lobster!) or not, and she’s the first to lash out sharply at soothing but empty feel-good words from those in power. Words don’t count anymore, actions do. She’s told people on her own side that. Actions deferred, whether it’s the Paris Agreement or tepid promises at the climate conference in Rio de Janeiro to scale back carbon emissions by 2050 mean nothing, she says. We need action, and we need it now.


That this argument was first made by a 15-year-old would have seemed laughable a year ago, and the truth is that many people did laugh at the time.

Well, they’re not laughing now.

In a stroke of good timing — though, knowing the way the media works, I suspect it was planned that way all along — 60 Minutes’s Steve Kroft presented a news segment, The Climate Kids, on North America’s most-watched news-magazine program this past weekend. The amicus brief this past Friday was co-signed by 30,000 young people. Now, all of a sudden, those 21 students who filed the original court case have swelled in number to the tens of thousands.

That number will only grow on March 15.

Will any of this make any difference? It’s hard to tell. I’ve commented here about how the 1973 Hollywood thriller Soylent Green, itself based on the dystopian sci-fi novel Make Room! Make Room! by the American novleist Harry Harrison, eerily foreshadowed a world overrun by too many people and choked by carbon emissions, where fresh strawberries are a near-priceless luxury that only multi-millionaires and captains of industry can afford — until they’re murdered as part of a corporate coverup, in case the proles — i.e. us — find out what’s really going on and rebel against their masters.


Soylent Green proved popular in its day, and has endured enough to be referenced even today— but as Greta Thunberg would point out, so what? What’s actually been done? 62 million American voters voted for Donald Trump to be their president, and this is a man who doesn’t even beliheve there’s a problem.

Xiuhytexcatl Martinez, the 19-year-old indigenous environmental activist and youth director of the self-explanatory Earth Guardians, is one of the lead plaintiffs in the suit, alongside climate scientist Dr. James Hansen. The suit — which many dismissed at the time, remember — argues that the US federal government has failed itd responsiblity to safeguard the health of future generations. The very air we breathe is at risk from rising carbon-dioxide emissions, which in turn affects global warming, a now-unfashionable phrase that most if not all legitimate climate scientists agree is the prime driver behind climate change. “What’s at stake right now,” then-15-year-old Martinez told the UN General Assembly in 2015, “is the existence of my generation.”

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Hyperbole? Perhaps. Possibly . . . probably, in fact. We can’t say we weren’t warned. Soylent Green went over this same ground in 1973, after all.