A 14-year-old student’s view of climate protests

Extinction Rebellion block the road near the Royal Courts of Justice in central London

This week I have been having some work experience at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Unsurprisingly, my week has been an eye-opening one, not just in terms of what it would eventually be like to work in an office, but also in seeing the admirable measures that some people will go to in order to protest and stand up and make changes happen.

One example of this type of protest is the self-described ‘international movement that uses non-violent civil disobedience in an attempt to halt mass extinction and minimise the risk of social collapse’: Extinction Rebellion.

On Monday 15thJuly they staged a roadblock and protest outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London by parking a large blue boat emblazoned with the message ‘act now’ in front of it. This was, coincidentally, my first day of work experience and also happened to be outside the building in which I was going to be working for the week. This was perhaps the most interesting start to work experience that I could have asked for since, prior to Monday, I had no knowledge of who these people were, let alone what they did, so I knew I was going to learn a lot during week.

Seeing the demonstration by Extinction Rebellion and reading a pamphlet I was handed by one of the protesters, prompted me to go through their handbook, called ‘This Is Not A Drill’, which details the truth about the severity of the climate change situation and provides the ‘tools’ to become an activist yourself.

One thing I found slightly off-putting about the book was the fact that it adamantly tells everyone that going to prison and getting arrested would be a ‘life changing experience’ and a good chance to catch up on some reading. I believe this to be far from the truth and, to the best of my reasoning, I cannot understand why someone would see prison as a good experience or somewhere that you should want to end up at. In fact, in May of this year, Extinction Rebellion released a statement in which they claimed that prison may even be a good time for some meditation. This, of course, created plenty of backlash and criticism.

Aside from my caution about the legal consequences of their protests and despite the fact that I probably would not see myself joining one, I respect their willingness to put their freedom on the line and how far they have pushed climate change into the forefront of people’s discussions. They are clearly raising awareness about a serious topic that deserves discussion.

Up until about a year ago, none of my peers or other young people around me were talking about climate change, even though it is a topic that they should at least be aware of because it concerns their future. So I was glad when this changed. Greta Thunberg’s protest outside Swedish Parliament in August 2018 sparked a global movement among young people for action against the climate crisis in the form of school strikes.

The movement has proved to be highly successful with an estimated 1.4 million students and children around the world leaving school on 15thMarch this year to demand action to prevent further global warming and climate change and to protect their futures. It is inspiring to see so many young people brought together in an act of solidarity. It creates a sense of hope knowing that young people can do something, we can stand up for what is right and we can have a say.

I find that some school students think that because they are young, there is no reason to campaign and to try to change something when ultimately it is not they who have the power to make changes. However, I believe that Greta Thunberg’s influence and actions prove that young people can have power, that our actions can make a difference. The attitude that we cannot make a difference is not one that will get you very far in the world. If she at the age of just 15 can create such a large scale movement, is it really too much to ask that teenagers simply eat less red meat, or walk instead of getting their parents to drive them everywhere in petrol or diesel cars?

Greta’s thought-provoking speeches, such as her TED talk, have certainly led me to think about what I am doing personally to help stop climate change. It is all well and good reading an article and thinking ‘that is terrible’ but if you are not actively doing anything to make a change, how will things ever get better?

I admire Greta’s attitude, particularly in the face of criticism, which I believe displays exactly the reason she deserves so much influence. No 16-year-old I know talks in such a wise and mature manner. Then again no 16-year-old I know has started a global movement. However, strangely, she has faced criticism for ‘sounding like an adult’, to which she responded in a speech in Stockholm this year by saying ‘don’t you think a 16-year-old can speak for herself?’ This, in my opinion, is the perfect response to such an unreasonable complaint.

As this article by Lottie Tellyn points out, perhaps our youthfulness is to our advantage: we believe the world can change and most importantly, we have not given up hope. This article also mentions the demands that the UK Student Climate Network have made, which includes the government lowering the voting age to 16. Whilst I agree that young people should have a level of responsibility in political matters, I do not think that most 16-year-olds are anywhere near the level of maturity that would be required to vote. In fact, I highly doubt that many 16-year-olds even take a particular interest in political matters. Not many young people I know do.

Upon reflection, this week has made me appreciate the people who bring this pressing issue of climate change to the public eye and reflect on the way I lead my own life and what I could be doing to help. For this I look to people like Greta Thunberg as role models who use their influence to do what is best for our future, which is something I believe most young people could learn a thing or two about.

Charlotte W is a 14-year-old school student at a school in North London.