Youth marches for climate action draw millions around the world

JUDY WOODRUFF: In cities all across the world
today, protesters are taking to the streets
in record numbers, demanding their leaders
reduce greenhouse gas emissions to address
climate change.
William Brangham talked with several young
people in this movement to understand what
they want and how they’re going about it.
His report, and the conversation to follow,
is part of our contribution to Covering Climate
Now, a global collaboration of more than 300
news outlets to enhance coverage of the climate
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: From Germany to Australia
to South Africa, and even with armed guards
in Afghanistan, record numbers of people all
over the world are on strike for the climate.
Angry that their governments won’t acknowledge
the crisis, and worried about their own future
on a warming planet, millions of protesters
today demanded immediate action.
AMAN SHARMA, Student Activist: The climate
crisis in totality is destroying my future.
And I don’t think we can hope to have jobs
or have a nice future when our existence on
this Earth is not guaranteed.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: It’s a protest unique not
only for its size, but for those leading it,
young activists, many leaving school today
to make their point.
The movement you see here today began over
a year ago, and most of these protesters would
credit one Sweden teenager for getting it
all started, 16-year-old Greta Thunberg.
Last fall, Thunberg started skipping school
on Fridays to demonstrate outside the Swedish
Parliament Building.
Her sign read: “School strike for climate.”
Since then, she’s become a global celebrity
of sorts, quietly leading massive rallies,
and confronting world leaders in brutally
frank terms, like she did in front of Congress
this week in Washington.
GRETA THUNBERG, Climate Activist: I don’t
want you to listen to me.
I want you to listen to the scientists.
And I want you to unite behind the science.
And then I want you to take real action.
first initial thought was that it is about
time that someone said that.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Fourteen-year-old Alexandria
Villasenor is one of the millions of young
people who have followed Thunberg’s lead and
joined this movement.
ALEXANDRIA VILLASENOR: The young people of
the United States are declaring the era of
American climate change denialism over.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Villasenor was moved to
action after a trip back to her home state
of California was cut short by last year’s
deadly wildfires.
She’s now been on her climate strike in front
of the United Nations headquarters in New
York for 40 straight Fridays.
friends or we’d go out to movies or we’d go
shopping, and we’re giving up a lot of that.
But I think that shows how committed we are
to organizing and how committed we are to
fighting for a future.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Seventeen-year-old Xiye
Bastida is another member of this movement.
She left Mexico with her family four years
ago, after she says heavy rainfall flooded
her hometown.
Like many of her fellow activists, Bastida’s
message is to policy-makers.
XIYE BASTIDA, Climate Activist: We don’t need
you to talk and talk, and say that you are
going to pass this resolution or not, or — because
resolutions and declarations are just words.
We need you to pass policy.
We need you to pass laws.
And we need them to happen now.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: This broad network of activists
want several key things, passage of a Green
New Deal, with its shift to 100 percent renewable
green energy by 2030, protection and restoration
of half the world’s lands and oceans, stopping
deforestation within 10 years, ending subsidies
for industrial agriculture, and halting resource
extraction on indigenous lands.
Ahead of today’s strike, Bastida and Villasenor
joined Thunberg and others this week in Washington.
They had a packed schedule, speaking on panels,
meeting members of Congress, rallying in front
of the Supreme Court.
And everywhere they went, they were surrounded
by handlers and cameras.
ALEXANDRIA VILLASENOR: As the climate crisis
gets worse, more of us are feeling it, and
more of us are living it.
It’s not something that is going to happen
in 100 years.
It’s something that is happening right now
to us.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Another young activist in
Washington this week was Vic Barrett.
This college student is a plaintiff in the
landmark case Juliana vs. the United States,
a lawsuit filed by over a dozen young Americans
alleging the U.S. government has failed to
adequately address climate change.
If successful, the case could force the government
to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
It’s currently waiting on an appeals court
VIC BARRETT, Plaintiff, Juliana v. United
States: We’re constituents.
We live in this country.
And so we’re suing the U.S. federal government
for violating young people disproportionately,
constitutional rights to life, liberty, and
They have discounted our lives incredibly
in all the choices that they have made.
And we’re finally just standing up and saying,
you can’t do this.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: One lawmaker in their corner
is Senator Ed Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts.
He’s a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal resolution.
What would you say to the critics who say,
what on earth are leaders doing taking advice
from teenagers?
EDWARD MARKEY (D-MA): Well, on this, the teenagers
are right, and the older generation has been
wrong in terms of their lack of attention
to this issue.
Nineteen-year-old Katie Eder is another part
of the movement.
Originally from Milwaukee, but now working
full-time in Los Angeles, she co-founded The
Future Coalition, which organizes young people
around a number of issues, including climate
KATIE EDER, Co-Founder, The Future Coalition:
Young people feel like that nobody is doing
anything, and so the responsibility is on
our shoulders.
And I think it’s really important to acknowledge
how sad that is.
These kids who are really kids — they’re
middle school, young high school — and they
honestly should not have to be planning protests.
They shouldn’t have to be lobbying their representatives.
They shouldn’t have to be trying to convince
adults that they need to do something so we
have a future.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Dana Fisher studies social
movements in America.
She’s a sociology professor at the University
of Maryland.
And she’s collected extensive data on this
youth climate movement.
Her surveys point to their potential impacts.
Most of these young activists will be of voting
age by the 2020 election.
DANA FISHER, University of Maryland: In some
ways, the school strike for climate change
is what the sit-in was for the civil rights
It is a tactic that is doable for people in
a very local way, where they can get involved
in a movement.
And as it diffuses, it can have a huge effect.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: But Fisher says the challenge
to this movement, to force a re-engineering
of how the world creates and uses power, and
to do it quickly, is enormous.
It would involve converting all gas-powered
cars to electric, closing all coal-fired power
plants, and dramatically ramping up wind,
and solar, and even nuclear power.
DANA FISHER: They are asking for substantive,
transformative change, but they are talking
about doing it through traditional political
And we have seen very few examples of when
that’s worked in our country or globally.
And, usually, that happens around mobilization
around a war.
I mean, some of the activists are calling
for a mobilization on par with World War II,
And that’s the kind of social change we’re
talking about.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The timing of today’s march
was intentional.
Monday is the opening of the U.N.’s Climate
Action Summit, where heads of government from
around the world will meet in New York to
present their plans for curbing greenhouse
gas emissions.
When we talked with Greta Thunberg last week,
she stressed that, for now, this movement
needs the adults to act.
GRETA THUNBERG, Climate Activist: We are not
doing this because we think it’s fun.
And we are not doing this to ease on your
We are not the ones who are going to solve
We are not the ones who are going to provide
you with solutions.
We are the ones who demand everyone to listen
to the united science and to take their responsibility.
on the streets with the river of students
protesting, I want them to see that and realize
that that is what change looks like, and that
they need to be a part of it.

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