Why are we still doubting the impact of the school strikes for climate action?
Written by Tara Mulvany - September 2019
Image Credit: The Irish Times
It was an extraordinary sight last Friday in Dublin to witness thousands of young Irish people from around the country, including my own daughter, march for the Schools Strike 4 Climate (SS4C) protest.
There were babies and toddlers being pushed in buggies by their parents, primary school kids in uniform escorted by their teachers, teens and young adults brandishing homemade signs calling for Government action. It was just one of many similar gatherings around Ireland.
Recognisable faces from political parties and media outlets, along with office workers on their lunch breaks, observed from the footpaths and the open windows of Georgian buildings around Merrion Square. But it was the young people who owned the streets. The cheering, waving and chanting under the unseasonal sunshine created a festive atmosphere. But it didn’t detract from the deadly and very serious message that the student speakers delivered from the podium.
Since those actions and the actions of 4 million other students around the globe last Friday, there has been a mixed reaction. A poll carried out by thejournal.ie the next day revealed that 60.3% of people believe the SS4C strikes will not impact government policy globally.
It’s hard to know whether the poll reflects a sense of distrust towards government action in general or apathy towards the actions of the young people. Perhaps it’s a sense of fatalism, that the problem is so big and requires such global systemic change, that protesting will make no difference. Or that any attempt at mitigation by an individual government or even a political and economic collective such as the EU, will not be enough to make an impact, particularly in the current climate of right wing populism.
What’s even more interesting is that the scepticism comes despite German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s pledge, announced on the same day as the strikes, of at least €100 billion for climate protection by 2030.
It’s also despite Greta Thunberg and the SS4C movement being at the centre of unprecedented levels of media attention on climate issues in recent times. Not to mention the influence that young people have had on the rise in electoral support for the Green Party that we’ve seen in Ireland and abroad.
This cannot wholly be attributed to the SS4C protests. But at the very least, they have helped to fill the news agenda and feed the recent media hunger for climate change stories, as well as to influence the framing of the reporting.
So while the strikes in themselves will most certainly not solve the problem, there is no question that whether we agree with them or not, they have already made an impact (however big or small) on government policy globally and are likely to continue to do so.