l to r. Severn Cullis-Suzuki, Greta Thunberg, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez
At the end of this week (on Friday 21 May) students from all over Australia will be attending School Strike For Climate rallies. Inspired by Greta Thunberg these have been gaining millions of participants all over the world since late 2018.
Will they be listened to?
Young people have been raising their voices for
decades. How many more decades before their
pleas, ideas, and suggestions are heard?
Greta Thunberg was not the first – she is unlikely to be the last. Here are just three of these young people
from the past three decades.
Severn was born in 1979, a third-generation
Japanese-Canadian. At the age of 9 she
founded ECO (Environmental Childrens Organisation).
In 1992, at the age of just 12, she and three other
members of ECO raised funds to travel to Rio de Janeiro to attend the U.N.
Earth Summit. Whilst there, she was
invited to speak to a plenary session of the delegates. A YouTube recording of her six minute speech
has now been viewed well over one million times. A link to her speech is here.
In the year following her speech she was honoured as a
member of the U.N. Environment Program Global 500 Roll of Honour – which
includes such notable environmentalists and conservationists as Sir David
Attenborough and Jane Goodall.
Xiuhtezcatl’s mother, Tamara Roske, founded the Earth
Guardians Community Resource Centre in 1992 (the same year Severn Cullis-Suzuki
spoke in Rio) in Hawaii. Beginning as a
high school focussing on environmental issues, this morphed into the
international environmental organisation, Earth Guardians. Xiuhtezcatl is the Youth Director of this
In 2015 (at the age of 15), he and 20 other young
people filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government alleging that the government
was denying them their constitutional right to life, liberty, and property by
ignoring climate change.
In that same year Xiuhtezcatl addressed the U.N.
General Assembly, speaking in English, Spanish, and Nahuatl (his native
tongue.) He spoke for all young people
when he told the delegates that,
is at stake now is the existence of my generation.”
In 2017 Rolling Stone magazine named him as one
of the ”25 under 25” young people who will change the world.
In August 2018, at the age of 15, Greta Thunberg began
spending her school days outside the Swedish Parliament with her now famous sign
– Skolstrejk för klimatet (School strike for climate.) She may not have known it then, that this
one-person action would go on to instigate one of the world’s most prominent
campaigns – the strikes by millions of students across the globe in favour of
action on climate change.
Within four months of her beginning those lone strikes
she was addressing the 2018 U.N. Climate Change Conference in Poland. Her attendance at the 2019 U.N. Climate
Change Conference in New York caught world-wide attention by her sailing to the
conference rather than flying.
At that conference she delivered her now famous “how
dare you?” speech. The context of those
three words is worth quoting here:
is all wrong. I shouldn’t be here. I should be back in school on the other side
of the ocean. Yet you all come to us
young people for hope. How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood
with your empty words. And yet I’m one
of the lucky ones. People are
suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction,
and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”
To this writer (who is almost exactly 50
years older) those three words – how dare you! – of admonishment are
Greta Thunberg was named Time Person of
the Year for 2019. She has been
nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three years running, in 2019, 2020, and
Greta Thunberg’s words – how dare
you! – punctuate three decades of young people speaking, beginning with
Severn Cullis-Suzuki in 1992, passing on through Xiuhtezcatl Martinez’s activism,
to the school strikes of today.
When will the world’s leaders finally
listen? When will they dare to listen?