From Sydney to Seoul, Cape Town to New York, children skipped school en masse Friday to demand action on climate change.
It was a stark display of the alarm of a generation. It was also a glimpse of the anger directed at older people who have not, in the protesters’ view, taken global warming seriously enough.
“I’m supposed to be in school, but instead I’m out here trying to make sure that my kids don’t grow up in a wasteland.” — Arielle Geismar, 17
“It’s very empowering to feel your voice is being heard and feel supported by so many people around the world.” — Darilla Gilberthorpe, 17
“We’re here because it’s important, it’s about our future. Because let’s face it, those sitting in Parliament will probably not be there in the future and it’s going to affect us.” — Luis Anzolin, 15
“I’m here because I think we should have done something 10 or 20 years ago. But luckily the world is waking up. The more people here, the better the impact.” — Anamaria Vaga, 19
“Should we remain seated in class for three hours this afternoon while we have no future? Pointless.” — Lucie Retailleau, 16
“Even though we can’t vote, we can take a stand.” — Kim Lombard, 15
The student protests, first inspired by a 16-year-old Swedish girl named Greta Thunberg, have spread across Europe in recent months. Thousands have marched in Berlin, Brussels, London and other European capitals on Fridays over the last several months.
In the United States, there have been solo and small protests in a number of cities, including New York, where a high school student named Alexandria Villasenor has stood outside the United Nations every week for the last 13 weeks. The largest strikes on Friday seemed to be outside of the United States.
The strikes have underscored a significant generation gap in concern about climate change, particularly in a handful of countries. The 20 warmest years on record have all come in the past 22 years, essentially the lifetime of today’s children and young adults.
In a recent Pew survey, carried out in 26 countries, a significantly larger share of young people said they worried about the threat of climate change, compared to people over the age of 50, in the United States, France, Australia and the Philippines.
In the Pew survey, the generation gap was significant even after statisticians controlled for political affiliations. And in the five years since the global survey began, concern about climate change has swelled overall among Americans, but at a far higher rate among young people. Other surveys have found that younger Republicans to be significantly more concerned about climate change than older members of the party.
Mark Margolin, whose daughter organized a youth climate march in Washington last summer, said he understood the urgency of climate change intellectually but didn’t feel the panic the younger generation feels emotionally. Partly, he said, it’s because he has seen the world overcome other global challenges — the fear of a Cold War nuclear confrontation, for instance.
But also, it’s because parents like him are focused on short term. “I don’t have the fear and panic they do,” he said. “Adults are so focused on, ‘Can I pay the bills, am I going to be able to pay my daughter’s college tuition?’”
Nadia Nazar, 16, from Baltimore, one of the organizers of the Friday rally in Washington, said young people didn’t see the crisis in the same way.
“My generation is first generation that will be significantly affected,” she said. “I want them to understand they’ve been able to live pretty normal lives. If climate changes continues and gets worse and worse then we won’t be able to.”
This article was written by Somini Sengupta in New York, with additional reporting by Vicky Xiuzhong Xu in Sydney, Australia; Livia Albeck-Ripka in Melbourne, Australia; Christopher Schuetze in Berlin; Palko Karasz in London; Milan Schreuer in Brussels; Elian Peltier in Paris; Hiroko Tabuchi in New York; and Kendra Pierre-Louis in New York.