With Today’s #ClimateStrike, Young Activists Seize the Narrative

Thousands of students across the United States and world are expected to walk out of school today and demand that politicians take immediate action to thwart climate disruption and secure a livable future for younger generations.

“We strike to bring attention to the millions of our generation who will most suffer the consequences of increased global temperatures, rising seas, and extreme weather,” organizers of the U.S. Youth Climate Strike wrote in a recent statement.

The protest follows in the footsteps of a teenage climate activist from Sweden named Greta Thunberg and a mass walkout in the United Kingdom last month, when an estimated 10,000 students took to the streets with support from scientists, advocates and some politicians. With deadlines to avert the worst impacts of climate change looming, youth activists are using the wave of school strikes to seize the climate narrative from the fossil fuel industry and sparring adult politicians.

Aditi Narayanan, a 16-year-old U.S. Youth Climate Strike organizer in Phoenix, Arizona, said a mass school strike is necessary to counter powerful interests promoting climate denialism and rally public support behind political agendas that are necessary for the survival of the planet.

“Obviously the reason that fossil fuel executives like Exxon and companies like this are being listened to is because they give money to elected officials, and that is the way they get their agenda implemented,” Narayanan said in an interview with Truthout on Thursday. “It is corrupt, unfair, and yet 100 percent legal.”

The U.S. Youth Climate Strike is demanding lawmakers embrace the Green New Deal, a broad set of proposals backed by progressives and a number of Democrats in Congress that would pump public investment into a renewable energy economy in order to drastically reduce carbon emissions and create new jobs.

The Green New Deal is all the rage among millennials and younger voters, and several top Democratic presidential candidates have announced support for the package in one form or another. Young progressive stars, such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are working with youth activists to spearhead the effort in Congress, and Rep. Ilhan Omar’s 16-year-old daughter, Isra Hirsi, is one of the central organizers behind the U.S. Youth Climate Strike.

President Trump, various Republicans, and aging, right-wing pundits have responded to the popularity of the Green New Deal by amplifying climate denialists and railing against “socialism.” GOP lawmakers have pulled a number of publicity stunts to rally opposition to the proposal, including a plan to bring the resolution to a vote in the Senate, where it would be doomed under the Republican majority, according to reports.

Republican Rep. Rob Bishop, who recently suggested that the Green New Deal would somehow make eating hamburgers illegal, compared the ideas behind the proposal to “genocide for rural people” in a press conference on Thursday.

“It’s no longer enough to say Republicans aren’t taking climate change seriously,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva, the Democratic chair of the House Natural Resources Committee where Bishop is the ranking member, in a statement on Thursday. “It’s clear they think this is all a joke.”

By walking out of school and joining protests around the world, young climate activists are reclaiming the narrative by providing a vivid picture of who will be impacted by climate disruption in the decades to come — and what lengths they are willing to go to defend their right to a livable planet. Not only are their demands “accomplishable,” Narayanan said, they are essential.

“They are agendas that are necessary for the survival of our planet and necessary for our future,” Narayanan said.

For example, Narayanan and other students walking out today are rallying behind existing initiatives in Arizona to build a sustainable water usage system and invest in solar and other sustainable energy sources, with the aim of holding politicians accountable to the public and the environment.

“I do think the public should listen to young activists because we’re not motivated out of money,” Narayanan said. “We are motivated by fear for our future and an unconditional love for our lands and for where we’re from.”