The planet’s environmental health is at risk if urgent measures are not taken. Faced with this panorama, millions of young people have taken up the reins of activism, and though they may have differing perspectives, protest against climate change.
When she was 15, Greta Thunberg stood in front of the Swedish Parliament with a poster that read “Skolstrejk för klimatet” (School Climate Strike). She was demanding her country’s government reduce its carbon emissions.
This happened in August 2018. Her struggle and the movement she created was named Fridays for Future, and it went viral almost immediately. Many people, but mostly the young, began to join the protest. In December 2018, the first global youth demonstration took place in 207 cities from every continent.
Greta Thunberg is hoping to force world leaders to listen to the recommendations made by scientists about climate change. As was stipulated in the 2015 Paris Agreement, which was signed by 195 countries, they should take specific steps to reduce emissions and prevent a rise in temperatures of around 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius. Otherwise, the effects on Earth will become irreversible.
According to the Sustainable Development Goals proposed by the United Nations (UN), the year 2030 is considered the limit for global action to be taken. If actions aren’t taken, we will see negative effects on weather patterns, the sea level will rise, and species will become extinct. This urgency is what motivates a group of young people from different countries with different perspectives to act to prevent the planet’s destruction.
“The proximity of this date is why our generation is so worried” explains Gerhard Favela, a specialist in Sustainable Economy and Development who is also an activist in Fridays for Future Durango.
Most of those who have joined the Fridays for Future movement form part of Generation Z, or the Centennial generation, which means .they were born between 1996 and 2010. The United Nations Population Fund indicates that up until 2019, this group made up 32% of the world demographic dividend.
All of them are hyper-connected with access to multiple screens and limitless information. This has turned Fridays for Future into a global phenomenon. It has also meant that wherever there is a climate strike, they find out via Facebook, chat on WhatsApp, and organize events on social media and then replicate them in other countries. That was how three global marches were organized in 2019, and Mexico participated in yet another to support the United States and Canada, explains Jorge Martínez, one of the movement coordinators in Mexico.
These young people demand to be represented. They create online communities and have grown up amid the dizzying pace of change and the economic crisis. They regard social transformation as normal and their easy access to information has made them take action. According to Felipe Gaytán, doctor of social sciences and member of the National Research System, this is a generation whose circumstances have forced its members to grow up quickly. They’re motivated by citizen safety, the abuse of natural resources, and by their need to protect the environment, as well as to strengthen the social fabric.
“Centennials see climate change as a pressing concern, and they have made it personal because it’s directly connected to their future,” explains the sociology specialist. “It’s also important to realize that this isn’t an adult-centric topic; there are everyday things that people can do as individuals. They know that they can make an ecological impact even with small things, although they may not be able to do so politically or economically, and that’s the area they need to focus on.”
“I’m frightened and frustrated”
Alexandria Villaseñor / Founder of Earth Uprising / Age: 14 / United States
The fires that happened in California in November 2018 led her to become involved in climate change. Alexandria decided not to turn a blind eye, but instead to join the youth movements that were demanding laws and policies be put in place to stop global warming. By December 2018, she had become one of the organizers of Fridays For Future and founded Earth Uprising, a network that spreads information and organizes protests with the aim of achieving the necessary changes to save the planet from any further harm. Her activism is also evident on social media: she has more than 37,000 followers on Twitter. During a UNICEF forum last September, she confessed to being “frightened and frustrated to see adults around me moving so slowly towards the solutions that my future depends on.” By Miriam Torres
“Why did I decide to pick up trash?”
Margarita Martínez Gil / Founder of Limpiemos Nuestro País (Let’s Clean Up Our Country) / Age: 21 / Mexico
Every year, more than eight million tons of plastic from 192 countries ends up in the sea. Margarita saw this problem with her own eyes more than two years ago on the beaches of Costa Rica, where she was working as a volunteer picking up trash. This experience changed the way this student of Sustainable Engineering from Tec de Monterrey saw her responsibility toward the planet. Now, she is making an impact in cities in northern Mexico where she has collected more than 65 tons of trash. She began to share her ideas about a zero waste lifestyle through social networking sites. This was how her first movement came into being: Let’s Clean Up Monclova, where she brought together more than 100 people to pick up some 10 tons of trash. “At the beginning people asked me why I was picking up trash. Now it makes me happy to see that lots of other young people are taking similar actions,” she says. Her work also includes re-using trash to create something new. For example, she uses cigarette butts, which are highly polluting, to make materials for plant pots. She makes ecobricks from PET and fertilizer from organic waste. This model is already being followed in Monterrey. By Luis Estrada
“Feminism opens your mind”
Chiara Sacchi / Activist from the Slow Food global network / Age: 18 / Argentina
“I was born in a home where things like taking care of Earth and the protection of biodiversity were considered very important. My mom has been an activist for many years,” she explains over the phone. Chiara is a Slow Food activist, as is her mother. This organisation fights for food sovereignty and responsible farming. In Argentina, where they depend on soy farming (in 2018 it represented 25.3% of exports), fumigating the fields causes serious problems for the environment. “The land becomes poisoned and it doesn’t recover for many years,” Chiara describes. She considers herself an activist for climate and feminist justice. She says that both ideologies have a lot in common: they both want social justice. “I consider them both important causes There’s a lot of connection, a lot of wisdom. What I do know is that feminism opens your mind.” By Fernanda Hernández Orozco
“We should be playing”
Lucas Barrero, Ander Congil, and Roger Pallàs / Activists / Ages: 22 / Spain
Five young university students (Ander Congil, Roger Pallàs, Lucas Barrero, Marc Truc, and Nuria Salmerón) started a protest movement against climate change in Spain. They stood in front of the Girona Regional Ministry headquarters on January 18th to demand real measures to combat climate change. Nowadays, Fridays For Future Girona has thousands of young people taking part in demonstrations across various Spanish cities to put pressure on the government to implement measures that help combat climate change. Furthermore, they are fighting for a sustainable economy closely linked to the environment. They hope this happens quickly, as following Greta Thunberg’s example and ideas, this isn’t just about the future of society’s youngest members. “We should be playing, reading, watching movies, studying to pass our exams or hundreds of other things, but we’re here today doing our part, fighting for a better future for everyone, because it’s also our responsibility,” says Ander Congil in an interview with Tec Review. By José Manuel Linares
“They’re trying to save the world”
Lilly (Ralyn Satidtanasarn) / Ambassador for the Yunus & Youth Foundation / Age: 12 / Thailand
During a family vacation on a beach in southern Thailand, she and her mother Sasie, an environmental activist, were shocked by the amount of trash on the shore. They cleaned it up immediately. The next day, the sea washed up even more trash. This was the beginning of a journey for Ralyn Satidtanasarn (her real name) as an activist. When she was 11, she sat outside the Thai government offices waiting for someone to hear her out. Today, she has managed to convince the government to agree to reduce the number of single-use plastic bags, and she has helped implement environmental strategies with embassies, department stores and several organizations. She’s also fighting for environmental education to be taught in Thai schools. In September 2019, she participated in the 10th Bangkok SD Symposium to discuss the circular economy, its implementation, and its impact. There, she declared, “What we’ve done in the past hasn’t worked, so we need to make a change. Adults need to stop talking and do more. I want them to start thinking about us and, please, try to save the world”. By Emmanuel Ridderstrom
“Children can start at home”
Sofía Molina / Founder of Cococu Girl Up / Age: 10 / Mexico
When she was six, she created Piggy Bank, a savings and awareness program. Later on, with support from the United Nations she created Cococu Girl Up, which has impacted more than a thousand girls and whose name comes from the same actions they encourage: spreading awareness, learning and caring. Ever since she was little, her parent’s jobs (they were specialists in rural development) meant she appreciated the natural richness of the Huasteca Potosina region. Cococu works toward the protection of Huasteca species, ecotourism, and sustainable communities based on the 30 Sustainable Development Goals of the UN, which are explained “without technical terms and with actions that children can start at home and at school,” she clarified. Furthermore, she is forming her own army of Cococu Child Ambassadors, who work on species protection. In 2019, the UN invited her to the Climate Action Summit in New York where Greta Thunberg spoke out against governments’ lack of action. She wasn’t able to go due to problems with her visa, but she is now ready for the one in 2020. By Luis Estrada