Friday, September 20, several upper-school girls left school early to attend the climate strike downtown.
The crowd gathered in front of City Hall, carrying homemade signs with captions like “I stand for what I stand on” and “There is no Planet B.” Speakers discussed important topics covering fossil fuels and carbon emissions, while singers and entertainers held performances.
This protest was not limited to the city of Memphis; people in over 150 countries gathered in front of their own local governments to strike for climate change. The global event was inspired by the Fridays For Future school strikes, which began in 2018 when 15-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg started sitting on the steps of Swedish Parliament every Friday to protest the lack of action being taken to prevent climate change. Her actions inspired youth from all around the world to do the same. These local youth protesters eventually joined together to create the Fridays For Future movement. The global climate strike that took place Friday, September 20 was modeled after these strikes and open to people of all ages and from all walks of life.
Claire Lee (12) is one SMS student who left school to participate. “The rhetoric of climate activism,” Lee describes, “has always been putting off an unfortunate future—the classic ‘what kind of world do you want to leave your children?’ However, this rhetoric is failing us because it's making global warming a future problem, not a now problem. This is a now problem. People are hurting now; people are dying now. People dying constitutes an emergency. Not a future emergency, not a maybe emergency, but a definite, now emergency and we need to change that rhetoric to really reflect this.”
Many activists describe the current climate issue as a “climate crisis” or a “climate emergency.” The reason for this is to draw more people’s attention to the dire problems it presents in the world. Just simply considering it “climate change” fosters the idea that this phenomenon is occurring naturally — that it demands no real consideration. But calling it a crisis or an emergency causes people to think more deeply about just how pressing and dire the situation really is.
One more tactic activists use to spark conversation about climate change is holding rallies and strikes, such as this one. But why hold the strikes during school and work hours? Why not in the evenings or on weekends? If friends, coworkers, employees and students must leave school and work, people are bound to notice. “Employers and administrators [will see] that their underlings care about [climate change] and that it really is a mass issue,” Lee says. Students are sacrificing their education and employees are sacrificing their pay and maybe even their jobs to support the movement. The sole act of their walking out is a representation of the importance of the crisis.
Oftentimes, people who attend the strikes take to social media in order to spread the news. Whether by keeping up with Greenpeace’s Instagram stories or just by seeing friends’ posts, updates on the action are readily available for social media users.
While social media can be useful to spread awareness, it can also foster this idea that people are more interested in using the event for likes and follows, rather than truly caring to make a change. “We need to be more conscious of falling into that trap and start using social media as a part of the movement, but not as the movement entirely. A lot of the problem with environmental activism is that we're trying to win this battle almost completely online. Not only is that impossible, but it also reflects poorly on us,” Lee comments. It is important to balance the actions with the publicity of those actions. We must go out and get involved: protest, strike, participate in clean-ups, and more. We must be willing to make tough changes—changes that may be inconvenient compared to the lifestyles of ease and comfort that we have become accustomed to.
One of the most crucial factors needed to change this lifestyle is changing our mentality about what change really is. Change doesn’t have to come about in big, grand gestures. Change can manifest itself in putting down those cookies in the cafeteria in order to avoid extra plastic packaging or printing double sided to use less paper. Making even the smallest daily effort can make a positive impact because each action builds collectively; however, the reverse is also true. Lee explains this by saying,“I'm sure we all hear, ‘why should I recycle? It's not going to do anything if it's just me.’ The thing is, when everyone's saying that, it will do something.” It is our choice whether we choose to act as a part of the ever-worsening problem or as a part of the solution. “If we keep perpetuating this culture of ‘I'm just one person, I can't really affect anything,’ then, no, we won't affect anything. But if we start instead saying ‘I'm just one person, I won't really affect anything, but it won't hurt’ or ‘I'm just one person, the benefit will be miniscule, but it's better than a miniscule negative,’ then I genuinely believe we can see serious change,” Lee states.
“So start doing the small stuff,” Lee recommends. “I mean recycle, try to eat less meat, go on a weekly walk around your neighborhood and pick up litter, keep reusable bags in your car, drive with your windows down, take shorter and fewer hot showers, carpool.” All of these are minor changes in your life that can come together to cause serious change.
“Just don't sit by and watch [the climate crisis] happen,” she urges, “because it's easier to put things in plastic bags or because you like having your house super cold. We're all need going to need to make sacrifices, and the more we put it off, the worse it's going to be.”
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