Analysis. Greta Thunberg, Flossie Donnelly, and other students are leading the call for action on climate change, trying to spur an inert global elite to action. Speaking at Davos, Thunberg said, ‘I want you to behave like our house is on fire. Because it is.’

Children are a driving force in climate rallies: ‘I want you to panic’

We are seeing tens of thousands of students mobilizing in Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and other countries to save the climate. It’s likely young people will be front and center at the Global March scheduled for March 15 in 40 countries around the world, demanding real change in environmental policies .

They have had good models to learn from: for instance, Swedish student Greta Thunberg. On a Friday last August, she began her climate advocacy in front of the Swedish Parliament building, with a sign saying “school strike for the climate.” In September, from her Twitter account (where she calls herself a “16-year-old climate activist with Asperger”), she put out a call for demonstrations on Fridays under the slogan FridaysForFuture. She later became a global icon, thanks to social media and her talent for taking clear-cut, uncompromising positions—while environmental organizations are forced to deal with problems in a much more complicated way.

In December 2018, Greta held a speech during the main session at the UN Climate Change Conference in Katowce, Poland, calling world leaders to account, asking them to “keep the fossil fuels in the ground” and “focus on equity.” A few days ago, she arrived at the World Economic Forum in Davos, after a long voyage by train (which she chose instead of flying, which is much worse for the environment in terms of greenhouse gas emissions). The political and economic elite of the world listened to her unsparing words: “At Davos, people like to talk about success, but financial success has come with a price tag, and on the climate we have failed,” she said. “I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I do. Every day. And I want you to act. I want you to behave like our house is on fire. Because it is.” Otherwise, the Forum, as usual, tried to square the circle of economic growth and environmental focus.

Greta’s words have reached more than just the ears of the powerful: she has reached young people, teenagers and young adults, who have begun to meet up on Fridays, in groups small or large, in the streets or in front of government buildings, to protest the lack of action on climate change.

They are brought together by the omnipresent hashtags: with #SchoolStrike4Climate, Greta is sharing the news about the 30,000 students on strike in Belgium; in Ireland, 11-year-old environmentalist Flossie Donnelly announced that her school and others will go on strike on Feb. 15 (“we might be a small country but we do care about the environment and we want to show that to the world”); in the Netherlands, the town of Zeist is rallying students for the 21st school strike. In the UK as well, a strike is set to take place in many cities across the country on Feb. 15: “The World’s Youth are waking up. Millions of young people are realising it’s now or never and are now taking direct action on the climate crisis and ecological catastrophe.”

Even in Italy, things are moving. For several weeks, young girls and boys, as well as ordinary citizens, have been gathering every Friday in various cities, without any party symbols on display, under the hashtags #FridaysForFuture and #ClimateStrike—following the global trend of organizing these events through social media. On Friday, sit-ins were organized in Pisa, Milan, Rome, Brescia, Bologna, Venice, Rome, Turin, Genoa and Taranto.

This is just the beginning. The road ahead will not be an easy one. Two recent tweets sent out by Greta, one after the other, speak volumes about the hopes and challenges ahead: the first explains that, according to a survey, as many as 61 percent of Germans support the FridayForFuture and SchoolStrike4Climate movements. In the second, she points out the disappointing fact that the so-called German Coal Commission (the German Commission on Growth, Structural Change and Employment) is arguing that Germany should be able to continue to burn coal until 2038.

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