Hundreds of students from elementary and high schools across the Sunshine Coast skipped school to rail against what they say is political torpor preventing decisive action on climate change.
“We need change and they aren’t giving it to us,” said one secondary student. A student in Grade 7 demanded a “focus on fixing climate change.”
Friday’s strike in Davis Bay was one of thousands that took place in more than 100 countries. The movement began last August, when 16-year-old Greta Thunberg sat in front of Swedish parliament during school days for three weeks to prompt action. Since then, she has protested every Friday and founded Youth Strike for Climate. Earlier this week Thunberg was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
Many of the students at Davis Bay were surprised at the size of the Friday protest. At its peak, several classes from Davis Bay Elementary School snaked through the group of chanting youth along the seawall, holding signs, flags and a papier-mâché globe. Passing cars slowed and honked their support as students cheered.
“It’s often really difficult because it doesn’t feel like there’s immediate steps we can take on issues,” said Nicholas Davis, student trustee at School District No.46 but who spoke as a student. “Suddenly there’s an opportunity where everyone’s doing it and there’s a licence to say this is what I care about, this is what I stand for.”
Davis said social networking sites like Instagram spread the word about the action. Flyers were also distributed at Sunshine Coast schools.
With more than 1,000 Instagram followers between them, Grade 12 students Marisa McLean and Sofia Machado took the lead on spreading the word at Elphinstone. “We’ve been on social media a lot, posting things on our Instagram stories and Snapchat stories and talking to friends this whole week trying to get people to come here to support the cause,” said Machado.
The pair aren’t involved in any student associations and haven’t organized protests before but said they were motivated by what they perceive to be government inaction.
Davis said many teachers have been supportive. Others disagreed. At least one student attended against their parents’ wishes. “This is important and I don’t think they understand that we actually care about this,” said one secondary student.
Local environmentalists, political spokespeople and organizations such as Extinction Rebellion also helped organize.
B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman responded to the B.C. student strike in an email to the Vancouver Sun on Friday, stating that he was “inspired” before summarizing B.C.’s climate plan to wean the economy off carbon.
Students at Davis Bay weren’t satisfied with the plan. “Canada as a whole needs to make major changes, not only as individuals but as a government system,” said Machado, “including stopping the pipelines.”
The action comes two days after the release of a UN report stating Arctic winter temperatures will increase by as much as five degrees Celsius compared to 1986-2005 levels, even if Paris Agreement goals are met. Several students also cited another UN report that the world has 12 years to prevent the climate from warming beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius, considered a tipping point for severe changes to the environment.
“I think the fact that kids are out here, building connections with other kids that care about these issues, it’s a good sign and I think it’ll breed more movements like this,” said Davis.
Another major action is planned for May 3.