Our June Women in Sustainability network meeting in Oxford took ‘Inspiration and Hope in the face of climate crisis’ as a theme.
I invited school leaver Grace Bagnall-Oakeley to attend and write down her thoughts and this is what she wrote.
The impact of the youth climate strikes
Many people at my school participated in the youth climate strikes, and I was intrigued and glad to hear these brought up in the discussions throughout the evening at the recent Women in Sustainability meeting in Oxford. As a sixth-form student (I finished my A-levels last month), I’d only discussed them with other people my age, so was interested to hear other perspectives.
I’d heard some cynicism about the climate strikes. One worry that circulated was that a lot of people were only there for the social media posts, and didn’t bother making more environmentally-friendly choices in their private lives. It’s certainly true that after each strike, my Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram feeds were flooded with images of people’s protests. People reposted their banners, videos of the marches, pictures of themselves and their friends with slogans painted onto their faces. I knew from speaking to people that some had only turned up for a few minutes. But minutes add up, and not everyone has the time or resources to spend hours protesting. Besides, even if some people were only there to look good on social media, surely it says something that caring about the climate attracts so much positive attention?
In the weird micro-climate of Instagram, ‘sustainable’ is often thrown around as a buzzword, but here people had actually been motivated to go onto the streets during school time, to go out of their way to protest about the state of our planet. This sends a clear message to governments. People are not prepared to put up with the disconcerting apathy towards, ignorance of, or denial of climate change, and to gain popularity with the next generation of voters, MPs will have to show support for policies which will tackle the problem.
I found it encouraging to hear about the impact of the strikes on those working in the sustainability sector. I had not considered this perspective. Most of the signs at the protests and commentary about them focused on the reactions of governments, as well as the teenagers themselves.
Students my age have grown up knowing about climate change, so it’s often hard to imagine what it must be like for people who worked for years to convince governments, other scientists and the general public of its existence and to make more environmentally-friendly choices. The sustainability sector can seem fresh and exciting to young people, but we often forget how much work it has been to get to this level of public awareness. It was fantastic to hear one adult who’d attended the strikes say it felt like, “it wasn’t just me any more”.
One word which was often used in the discussion about the climate strikes was “energised”. After years of working in the sustainability sector, often being met with resistance or apathy when trying to suggest changes, some people at the event understandably felt exhausted by their work. Many said that the strikes had been encouraging, as they could see how many others cared, and that their message was being passed on. Some had tears in their eyes.
It can be daunting thinking about how much work millenials and Gen-Zers will have to do to keep our planet as safe as possible. We will have to attempt to fix the problems created not just by ourselves but by the generations before us, who knew less about the impacts of their actions. However, motivation to save the planet is at an all-time high. Thanks to science lessons at school, documentaries such as Blue Planet II and increased media awareness, public understanding of climate change is greater. This gives me a lot of hope.
Additionally, the support many adults have given the strikers has been extremely moving. Memories people had of the march included parents and teachers joining hands in a ring around the students in a show of solidarity. The general consensus was that schools were now starting to notice and care more, creating Whatsapp groups to discuss how they can make more sustainable choices, and creating new environment policies with big commitments made.
I know from my own experience that sustainability issues are on my peers’ radar. Almost everyone tries to avoid single use plastics. More people are choosing to eat predominantly vegetarian or vegan diets, aware of the impact animal farming has on the planet.
Climate change deniers are regarded with either amusement or despair, and in the recent European elections, a ‘Green Wave’ hit as more voters supported parties focussed on climate policy. These climate strikes are another indication of a change in attitude which will hopefully drive changes in policy, and in turn limit some of the harm we have caused.