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 organisation.
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,
“What 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:
“This 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 entirely appropriate.
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 2021.
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?