Why I strike: My reflection on the climate march


Natalie Sweet

If you’re not scared, you’re not paying attention.

Considering the current carbon emission levels, what is left of our CO2 budget will have completely disappeared within less than eight and a half years, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

In 2017 alone, 18 million people were displaced because of the climate crisis. By 2050, this number is expected to grow to upwards of 150 million, bringing a stronger meaning to the term “climate refugees.” And 97.2 percent of scientific papers written on climate change support the claim that global warming is human-caused.

We are running out of time. So why doesn’t it seem like it?

The answer is simple: privilege. The majority of us aren’t from communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis. We don’t face the effects of the crisis firsthand. We can look away from devastating wildfires, from deadly floods and droughts. And to give us some credit, the media rarely shows us this; rather, we see white children holding a sign in front of a camera.

I am just as guilty of this complacency. How do we stop it?

Here’s my two-step plan: educate, and listen. Educating, on the one hand, is quite hard. These discussions about climate justice have been going on for a long time,and as a school, we have acknowledged them—just not in our curriculum.

In a 1994-1995 issue of the Record, Andrew Pearlstein published an opinion piece about a variety of environmental issues, including environmental racism.

Environmental racism is, put quite simply by Pearlstein, “[The reason why] an incinerator would be built in the Brooklyn Navy Yard before it is built in Riverdale.”

But since we do not have comprehensive climate justice education at our school or at the majority of schools around the country, I’ll briefly explain some concepts below.

We can not tackle this problem with individual actions. While they do make a difference— and I strongly suggest to everyone who can change their diet, recycle more, and reduce their carbon footprint to do so— the fact is, these actions not accessible to everyone. And it’s not enough.

According to the Carbon Majors Report, 100 companies have been the source of more than 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988, according to a new report. We need systematic changes, and we need to protest and lobby until we get it.

It is also common to become apathetic because the world’s problems seem unfixable. But apathy is dangerous as well, since there are ways we can stop the crisis.
The New York Times Bestseller Drawdown, edited by Paul Hawken, contains 100 substantive solutions to reverse the climate crisis and is written by the leading scientists and policymakers on climate change all over the globe. Support, lobby, and vote for candidates who support policy that reflects the solutions written in drawdown.

The crisis also seems more real when you listen to the stories of those who are directly impacted by it. At the United Nations Youth Climate Summit on September 21st, I met a fellow climate activist around my age who lives in Pittsburgh. As we shared stories about how we got involved in climate activism, she told me about in the past couple of years, she had lost four of her family members in Bangladesh due to air pollution and floods.

How can I stand by while my friend’s families are dying? This is not just an ecological issue; this is a human rights issue.
So when people ask me why I strike, there are too many reasons to name.

I strike because my children may not have a future. I strike because countless people are dying because of this crisis. I strike for those who cannot strike, those who are trapped in communities plagued by disaster, and those who cannot afford to miss a day of work.

I can say these reasons over and over and over and I am still asked, “How does striking make a difference? What has changed?” Though many, many deals have been met through our strikes, I’ll leave you with my personal favorite victory.
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries had called the school strike movement their “greatest threat.” When the fossil fuel industry calls you their biggest threat, you know you’re making a difference. Join us to make a change. Our lives depend on it.