Sabrina Edwards, The Badger’s Science Editor, looks at the context and organization behind one of the largest climate protests in recent history as well as what’s next for the global climate movement.
Students in Brighton and across the UK went on strike from classes on Friday, February 15 to protest Climate Change and what they perceive as inaction on the part of the UK government.
As one of the largest protests in the UK, the Brighton Youth Climate Strike began with a march through the streets of Brighton and ended with speakers and demonstrations at the Level.
A number of groups in the Brighton area were involved in the organization of the event, including Socialist Students, Brighton and Hove Green Parties, school groups, and the University of Sussex’s own Climate Action Movement.
Climate Action Movement
Climate Action Movement (CAM) is a University club that meets on Tuesday evenings in Fulton. They focus on the climate crisis through demonstrations, talks, meetings, and of course, socials.
At their meeting before the Youth Strike on Tuesday, February 12, approximately thirty students met to get to know each other and to discuss the context, reasons, and logistics for the event.
After going around and introducing themselves and their pronouns, the group members settled in for the hour-and-a-half or so meeting.
According to committee member Sebastian Kaye, these meetings typically begin with a description of climate news. Kaye listed successes like the Green New Deal talks which began on Wednesday, February 13, as well as a new IPPR report that declared that climate change “is a crisis”.
One specific focus of the event in Brighton was Climate Justice. Roseanne Steffen, one of the organizers of the event for CAM, defined Climate Justice.
“Climate Justice is to recognize that the climate crisis isn’t a single issue. We need to look at why it has emerged historically.”
These historical contexts include the industrial realities that stemmed from a colonial world order and the uninhibited economic growth that put the Earth in this precarious predicament in the first place.
Advocates for a Climate Justice approach to the climate crisis hope to refocus the climate debate on how we collectively got into this mess and how we collectively can get out of it equitably.
Harry Salisbury, another member of CAM, emphasized how important it is to include justice in the climate discourse.
“I think it’s really good that Brighton is looking at Climate Justice. Climate change isn’t just in the future, it affects people now, just maybe not here.”
Coordination for Change
Steffens also stated how important it was to coordinate with other groups and other strikes to participate in a larger movement.
CAM specifically has been working with Youth Strike 4 Climate, a coordinating body based out of London. According to a statement put out by Youth Strike 4 Climate, over 15,000 people participated in Youth Strikes across the UK in 60 different cities.
The BBC stated that the four largest were in London, Brighton, Oxford, and Exeter.
Globally, protests on the 15 of February took place in over 20 countries with cooperating organizations, including the American Sunrise Movement and other climate groups.
Though there have been various other climate movements making waves in recent memory, including Extinction Rebellion which shot down bridges in London and posted notices across Brighton, the Youth Strike is a unique demonstration in its organization and implementation – by young people, for young people.
The inspiration for the movement, Greta Thunberg, decided not to attend school starting on August 20, 2018 in protest of government inaction on climate change. She began by sitting outside the Swedish Parliament buidling holding a sign that said “Skolstrejk för klimatet” (School strike for climate).
Her image and her fiery call to action have motivated the foundation of further student groups and the continuation of existing movements to save the planet.
Legal and Academic Frameworks
At the Brighton strike, various speakers joined to give the event an additional academic, discussion-based dimension. Speakers included: Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton; Michael Collyer, professor of Geography at Sussex University; Annie Marley, Katya Voziyanova, and Roseanne Steffen, students; Harry Jenkinson from Decolonise Sussex; Phelim Mac Cafferty, Green Councillor; James O’Nions from Global Justice Now; and Ketan Jha, PhD student and lecturer in Law at Sussex University.
Jha specifically spoke on the legal expectations and ramifications of climate policy-making, including the growing number of legal suits regarding climate change.
“What we are trying to foster is a shift to something that is transnational. Not international, not top down, but rather grassroots.”
Some of these legal actions include suits filed by the organization Plan B, a group which is placing pressure on the UK government to embrace green policies and follow the Paris Climate Accord.
Including these academic and legal voices in the Brighton Youth Strike was important to the message of the demonstration, as discussed at the CAM meeting.
“The idea in doing this is to creat a demonstration that isn’t just young people waving their fists,” said Kaye. “These talks will hopefully be a start of a series of talks that could follow the demonstration.”
Many different international organizations and government officials have reacted positively and offered support for the students involved in the Youth Strikes.
This list includes Caroline Lucas MP who spoke at the Brighton Youth Strike and Energy Secretary Claire Perry, who told the BBC she was “incredibly proud” of the gumption and actions of these young people. However, not everyone views these “walkouts” as an effective or worthwhile use of students’ time.
Prime Minister Theresa May, in a statement from Downing Street, expressed concern about the usefulness of such a protest.
“… It is important to emphasise that disruption increases teacher’s workloads and wastes lesson time that teachers have carefully prepared for. That time is crucial for young people precisely so that they can develop into the top scientists, engineers and advocates that we need to help tackle this problem.”
Similar sentiments were expressed by Education Secretary Damian Hinds, who stated: “I want young people to be engaged in key issues affecting them and involving themselves in causes they care about. But let me be clear, missing class won’t do a thing to help the environment; all they will do is create extra work for teachers.”
Outside of the UK, other government officials made similar statements. Rob Stokes, Education Minister in New South Wales, Australia criticized the logic of students “striking” in an interview with Sky News Australia’s Chris Kenny.
“These are on school days, school children on school days should be at school. You simply can’t strike if you don’t have a job … the law is very clear, this is a notified school day, kids should be at school.”
This pushback is not surprising as the focus of many of these protests is a criticism of the actions and inactions of current governments, specifically regarding perceived lack of compliance with the Paris Climate Accord.
UK Student Climate Network and other, international climate action groups are planning an additional strike on March 15.
As for what’s next for CAM at Sussex specifically, Salisbury indicated how important it is to remain focused, yet flexible. “In terms of this organization, I’d like it to always take on new forms. In relation to Youth Strike, I’d just like to see wider discourse around climate justice. I want it to be part of the wider discursive understanding of climate change.”