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Youth Lead the Charge to Combat Climate Change
Youth Strike to Halt Climate Change
Youth Climate Activist Greta Thunberg arrives in New York Harbor ahead of the 2019 UN General Assembly

Youth Climate Activist Greta Thunberg arrives in New York Harbor ahead of the 2019 UN General Assembly

On August 28, 16 year old climate activist Greta Thunberg sailed into New York Harbor with the mission of bringing her message of climate justice to the United Nations. She was greeted by 17 sailboats, each representing a different Sustainable Development Goal. 

Her journey itself represented the ongoing fight against the effects of climate change: To cross the Atlantic, she refused to take a plane and chose to use a sailboat. The sailboat was powered by solar and wind energy which was a zero carbon alternative to an airplane. Her transportation choice was a conscious decision to pick sustainable travel over convenience. Her transportation pick was also in protest of air travel, since on average a plane produces a little over 53 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) per mile.  

Thunberg’s main focus in the United States is the United Nations General Assembly, when world leaders converge in New York City for annual high-level meetings and decision-making. She came with an objective of pressuring state leaders to reach the Paris climate agreement goal of keeping the global average temperature from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. In order to avoid an increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that emissions would have to stop today or go on a steep downward trend. Although there is knowledge of the dangers of a rising global temperature, not enough is being done to keep the average temperature from rising. As of now, there are little to no signs of emissions drastically decreasing. The U.S. State Department reports that “From 2005-2017, the United States CO2 related emissions declined by 14 percent while global energy-related CO2 emissions rose by 21 percent during the same time”. Greta and her supporters understand that time is running out and fossil fuels need to be scaled back.  

Greta Thunberg delivers a speech during a meeting with the environment committee of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, 2019

Greta Thunberg delivers a speech during a meeting with the environment committee of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, 2019.

At a time when the world isn’t slowing down its fossil fuel production, young people have taken action against fossil fuel corporations. Greta has become a voice for the movement by starting her climate strike in 2018 and then speaking at the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Katowice, Poland. She is now set to speak at the Secretary General’s Climate Action Summit this month. She first gained recognition by protesting in front of the Swedish Parliament, calling for climate action.

Her actions have inspired others to protest on Fridays. These protests have taken the shape of global climate strikes called “Fridays for Future” where students boycott school on Fridays to demand change in environmental policy. Her Fridays for Future strikes have taken place all over the world and have inspired people to demand change. According to the Fridays for Future website, a total of 1.4 million children have walked out from school in climate strikes. 

Youth protest in Sydney, Australia, as part of the global climate strike on March 15, 2019.

Youth protest in Sydney, Australia, as part of the global climate strike on March 15, 2019.

When youth are asked why they strike on Fridays, the responses have one idea in common: Time is running out. Greta and youth climate leaders are ready to fight for climate justice at this year's Climate Action Summit.  At the Climate Action Summit on September 23, the United Nations hopes to address Sustainable Development Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change. This goal includes working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent over the next decade. The summit will focus on adopting a realistic plan that will achieve this objective. September 21 is the United Nations Youth Climate Summit, where young leaders from around the world will have a chance to participate in workshops and discussions that will produce solutions to combat climate change.  

There are many ways you can support this movement:

  • Sign up for the September 20 Global Climate Strike and Week of Action by locating an event near you.  

  • Side with Love hosted a UUs & the Global Climate Strike Webinar on September 5. Watch the recording for information and inspiration ahead of the strike.

  • A group of UU ministers led by Rev. Peggy Clarke, Senior Minister at The Community Church of New York Unitarian Universalist, have put together an excellent packet of worship materials for Worship Services on or before September 15 about the Global Climate Strikes, as well as an informational flyer on the Strikes and the many ways we can participate.

  • UU Conference - Advancing Economic and Climate Justice as a Moral Issue: Building a Movement for a Green New Deal - Sept 15-17 in Washington, DC. Come for the first day at All Souls Unitarian Church to hear from some amazing speakers from our most impacted communities and learn about actions we can take, or stay for the next day or two to get trained in advocacy and visit congressional representatives. Learn more and register now. Whether or not you attend, you can help the movement by handwriting a letter to your Senators that attendees will deliver during the conference.

About the Author

  • Lindsey Mayer is a Climate Justice Intern for the Unitarian Universalist Association United Nations Office during the 2019-20 academic year. She is a senior at SUNY New Paltz and is majoring in International Relations. ...

For more information contact international@uua.org.

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