SYDNEY ― Millions of young people around the world began stepping out on Friday to support dramatic climate action.
Friday’s event is the second mass climate protest this year. In March, more than 1.4 million young people around the world were inspired in large part by 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg, who staged a solo protest in her native Sweden. Thunberg has become one of the most well-known faces of the youth climate movement, and in recent weeks has appeared in front of Congress, spoken with former President Barack Obama and has plans to speak before the United Nations next week. On Friday, she’ll be on the front lines of the protest in New York alongside many other young leaders of the environmental movement.
The global climate strike began early Friday in Australia and countries across the Pacific:
In Sydney, police estimated at least 80,000 people attended the city’s rally, many bearing signs and decrying federal efforts to approve some of the planet’s largest coal mines. Other Australian cities saw even larger numbers, including 150,000 in Melbourne and 22,000 in Hobart. It was reportedly the largest strike the capital of Tasmania had ever seen.
Protestors in Sydney held beacons reading: “I want you to panic” and “There is no Planet B.” Many signs were aimed at Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, including one with the lawmaker’s photo and the name “Coaldemort.”
“I care about Earth and the environment,” 10-year-old Rebecca Manuguerra, who was at the Sydney rally with her mom, said. “I feel good that I’m not the only one just trying to fight for Earth.”
Rebecca Campisi, an elementary school teacher in Sydney who was at the rally with her two kids and mother, said the day’s event was inspiring.
“I’m so impressed with how many people have shown up, and so many kids, so many students,” she said. “It’s very uplifting to know that the future is in safe hands, and obviously there’s a very big groundswell now of people that really care about this issue and they can’t be ignored any longer. It’s time to take some action and make some change.”
The global strike takes place three days before the United Nations holds its Climate Action Summit at its headquarters in Manhattan, one of several high-level events meant to galvanize the world into taking more meaningful action to address climate change.
“The biggest challenge that leaders and institutions face is to show people we care — and to mobilize solutions that respond to people’s anxieties with answers,” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said earlier this week. “Through it all, my message to world leaders will be simple: Put people first. Their needs. Their aspirations. Their rights. People want solutions, commitments and action.”
He continued: “And I suspect that we will hear [this message] loud and clear from young people over the weekend.”
The event comes at a dramatic crossroads for climate action. Young Americans are more worried about climate change than ever, but federal action to address the phenomenon has only been rolled back since the ascendency of President Donald Trump. Over the past two years, the White House has rolled back or eliminated dozens of the country’s key environmental laws and withdrawn the U.S. from the landmark Paris climate agreement.
At the same time, scientists have been tolling warning bells as loudly as they can. Global carbon emissions — the main driver of climate change — rose to a record high in 2018, which was also the fourth hottest year on record.
On Thursday, more than 2,000 scientists around the world signed letters urging their colleagues to attend the global strikes.
“The scientific community has done its best to outline the growing climate crisis and to show ways that society can move to meet the challenge. But beyond our work in the natural and social sciences we are also, like everyone else, people,” the letter reads. “We don’t have much time. It’s up to us to self-organize and contribute to the broader movement.”
Friday’s events are expected to be bigger than ever, with businesses and school districts around the globe giving students and employees time off to attend local events. New York City’s school district said earlier this week its 1.1 million students could skip classes without penalties. Across Australia, more than 2,600 businesses said they were supporting the global strike, urging employees to take the day off or step out for a long lunch.
Some 800 protests are planned across the U.S., according to the group 350 Action, and they’ll certainly be political. In Washington, D.C., marchers will make their way to the U.S. Capitol building. And in San Francisco, the group plans to start off its strike in front of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office.
Look for climate events near you here.