Children power

Published March 26, 2019, 12:47 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat



Atty. Joey D. Lina Former Senator
Atty. Joey D. Lina
Former Senator

It could be a turning point in history as schoolchildren in many parts of the world, from near the Arctic Circle to the South Pacific, showed they can be an awesome power to reckon with.

Last March 15 was a day like no other as hundreds of thousands of teenage students in as many as 100 countries took to the streets in one of the biggest global efforts so far to push for more action in tackling climate change and its disastrous consequences.

The wave of global youth activism swept across some 1,700 cities worldwide, according to CNN, drawing inspiration from Swedish high school student and climate activist Greta Thunberg who was recently nominated for the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize.

Should the Nobel be awarded to the 16-year-old Thunberg this year, she would be the youngest recipient after Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani schoolgirl who survived a Taliban assassination attempt in 2012, won in 2014 for her struggle in fighting for the right of all children to education.

Thunberg’s call to action on climate change began on September 2018 during the parliamentary elections in Sweden. Only 15 years old at that time, she skipped classes to sit outside the Parliament building for three weeks, holding a sign urging her government to do more on climate change.

She got the attention of world leaders last December with a blistering speech at the UN climate change COP24 conference. ”Our biosphere is being sacrificed so that rich people in countries like mine can live in luxury. It is the sufferings of the many which pay for the luxuries of the few,” Thunberg said. “You say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes.”

At the World Economic Forum last January in Davos, Switzerland, Thunberg was even more blunt as she faced the world’s elite and richest people. “Some people, some companies, some decision-makers in particular, have known exactly what priceless values they have been sacrificing to continue making unimaginable amounts of money. And I think many of you here today belong to that group of people,” she said.

And her message there was also even more frantic. “Adults keep saying: ‘We owe it to the young people to give them hope.’ But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then, I want you to act,” Thunberg urged. “I want you to act as if you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if the house was on fire. Because it is.”

Thunberg’s efforts on climate change have been relentless, eventually igniting a movement that has gained momentum among teenage schoolchildren worldwide who converged in a massive display of unity on March 15.

From Australia to South Korea, to Hong Kong and India, to Germany and Portugal, across the United States and elsewhere, schoolchildren marched on the streets calling on their governments to act more quickly on climate change. “The oceans are rising, so are we,” read one placard in a Sydney rally. “We are running out of time, and we won’t be silent any longer,” stated other teen activists.

Their efforts intensified amid an alarming report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last October which warned that “damage to the planet would be irreparable should the world fail to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius within the next 12 years.”

In the report, the world’s leading climate scientists said that beyond 1.5C, even just half a degree more would “significantly worsen” risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

“We stand in solidarity with Greta Thunberg and all youth strikers worldwide as we demand action on this issue,” exclaimed teen organizers of the youth rallies in the United States. “We call for radical legislative action to combat climate change and its countless detrimental effects.”

Elsewhere, widespread protest actions were reported. In Berlin, for instance, more than 10,000 young students gathered in a downtown square, waving signs with slogans such as “March now or swim later” and “Climate Protection Report Card: F.”

News reports and images also showed students packed in streets and squares in other European cities like Copenhagen in Denmark, Vienna in Austria, and Lisbon in Portugal. In Poland, thousands marched in rainy Warsaw and other cities to demand a ban on the burning of coal. Some wore face masks as they carried banners that read “Today’s Air Smells Like the Planet’s Last Days.” Students also protested in South Africa’s administrative capital of Pretoria, chanting “There’s No Planet B.”

But British Prime Minister Theresa May criticized students skipping school in the United Kingdom. Her spokesperson said “disruption increases teachers’ workloads and wastes lesson time that teachers have carefully prepared for.”  On that, Thunberg responded on Twitter: “That may well be the case. But then again, political leaders have wasted 30 years of inaction. And that is slightly worse.”

The power of schoolchildren acting in unison and calling upon adults to act and save our planet can be truly amazing. Having been involved in the “parliament of the streets” during my teenage years, I know how it feels to be an impassioned youth activist.

And having been the nation’s youngest senator when Congress reopened after EDSA 1, the youth shall always have a special place in my heart. I salute and join them in their efforts to awaken world leaders and push them toward swift and decisive action on climate change.

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