BERN, Switzerland — The world is on fire. Adults failed to stop it, so they should get out of the way and let children lead. A protest movement of youth who feel betrayed by adult inaction on climate change has been taking wing, spreading that message worldwide.
Hundreds of students marched in the Swiss capital as part of the Fridays for Future groundswell movement, also known as Youth for Climate and Youth Strike 4 Climate. Their strikes were not affiliated with any political party, but they helped rally support for efforts by international organizations to promote global cutbacks in carbon emissions.
Around Bern’s main train station, thundering cheers went up around the lunch hour where hundreds of students were gathered. Similar youth demonstrations to raise awareness of climate change were held simultaneously in other Swiss cities and abroad.
They strode through the streets with banners like “System Change Not Climate Change,” “System Change Now!” and “You’ve Run Out of Excuses, We Are Running Out of Time!” In Federal Square, outside Swiss Parliament, they halted to raise their voices in protest.
“We are all here, we are students and we are against the climate change. We are against capitalism, against these politicians who destroy our world,” said an 18-year-old student in Bern who identified himself as Emma Goldwoman.
“These rich people, with a lot of force and a lot of money, these are exactly the people who destroy our world and they will never solve our problems in the world, never,” he added. “We should take it on ourselves for solving these problems.”
Along the way, while blocking trams and downtown traffic, he and other students paused occasionally to speak with some of the adults, many of whom responded with a thumbs-up sign or encouraging smiles while on lunch break or doing their Christmas shopping.
Galvanized by a teenager
They global movement began in August 2018 when 15-year-old Swedish student Greta Thunberg stood outside the Swedish parliament each school day for three weeks to protest inaction on global warming. Her Instagram and Twitter posts soon went viral.
Thunberg’s speech at the United Nations climate summit this month in Poland and her remarks on behalf of Climate Justice Now, a global network of climate advocacy groups, helped fuel wider protests. “You are not mature enough to tell it like is,” she told global climate negotiators at the U.N.-led summit. “Even that burden you leave to us children.”
Tens of thousands of students from around the world have since been joining in her efforts, coordinating school strikes at hundreds of towns and cities in nations such as Australia, Belgium, Britain, Japan and the United States — and now Switzerland.
Almost 200 nations at the U.N.-brokered talks in Katowice, Poland agreed on a set of rules for how nations implement the 2015 Paris Agreement. The complex rules say how the countries should report their carbon emissions and who pays what for climate action.
Negotiators overcame a deadlock on the crucial element of how nations should report their greenhouse gas emissions before wrapped up the talks last weekend, a day longer than planned. The Paris accord seeks to prevent average global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, or 1.5 degrees C. if possible.