Science Policy & Funding News

Youth Call for Action with Climate Strikes

Climate scientists show their support for protests in the United States and around the world on 15 March.


“This is a fight for our future,” Saraphina Forman, a high school sophomore in Northampton, Mass., says about climate change.

Forman, 16, is the state lead for the U.S. Youth Climate Strike, which is organizing youth protests around the country on Friday, 15 March.

“Climate change is so important that we are calling for action now, and we are not going to back down until we get a plan that will work and is based in science, and we get action from our world leaders,” Forman told Eos.

The U.S. Youth Climate Strike movement hopes to call attention to climate change and support for the Green New Deal, a proposed congressional resolution to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, among other goals. “We are striking because our world leaders have yet to acknowledge, prioritize, or properly address our climate crisis,” the mission statement of the movement declares. Activities similar to the U.S. climate protests are planned around the world, many of them inspired by Greta Thunberg, 16, who started a school strike for climate in 2018 in front of the Swedish parliament building.

“If you look at the science and the data, and especially the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] report released by the United Nations in 2018, it’s fairly clear that climate change is a huge threat,” Forman said. She was referring to the IPCC’s October 2018 report, Global Warming of 1.5 ºC, which states, “Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate.”

Forman said, “If we don’t do something in these next 11 years, and if we fail to meet the warming target provided by that report, then we will have a climate catastrophe.”

Scientists’ Support for the Climate Protests

Forman and others involved in youth climate protests are getting a lot of support from scientists. A 4 March letter currently signed by more than 240 U.S. scientists says that the “students’ demands for bold, urgent action are fully supported by the best available science. They need our support, but more than that, they need all of us to act.” Other petitions also have offered scientists’ support for youth climate protests.

Peter Kalmus, a climate scientist and author of Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution, told Eos that the 4 March support letter from scientists grew out of a dialogue he had with one of the U.S. Youth Climate Strike organizers.

Kalmus said that with climate change getting worse with each passing year, “the real victims are the kids. It makes total sense that they are starting to speak out.”

His two children, Braird, 11, and Zane, 10, have been protesting about climate change at their school and other locations. On 15 March, he and his kids are planning to attend a climate change protest at the Los Angeles city hall.

Kalmus said that he is starting to see a difference in how climate change is being discussed more seriously in the media and by politicians and that these kids can be part of the dialogue and the solution as well. “With kids, they tend to say, ‘OK, I get it, this is a problem. So, alright, how can we solve it?’ They tend to pivot quickly to discuss solutions.”

“A Brave Thing to Do”

Protesting about climate change “is a brave thing for kids to do,” said Kate Marvel, a climate scientist and associate research scientist at Columbia University who signed onto the letter of support from scientists. “I’m a little upset that it falls to kids to walk out of school to call for action on climate change, because it’s grown-ups’ responsibility.”

She told Eos that the kids “are up against fairly powerful forces,” including inertia and how controversial the issue has become, and that some people are telling them that they don’t know what they are talking about.

“I think it was important for us as scientists to say that on the science, on the severity of the problem, yes, they do know what they are talking about. This is in line with consensus science,” Marvel said. “The science really does support taking action on climate change.” She added that she and other scientists have been careful, though, not to advocate for any particular policies “because I think reasonable people can disagree about that.”

She said that the youth climate strikes are a hopeful measure. “In the 2016 election, there wasn’t a single question asked in the presidential debates about climate change,” she said. “This sort of attention, and young people organizing around that, makes it less of a possibility that in a presidential election you can completely ignore this issue.”

“A Profound Moral Outrage”

“I support every manifestation of climate leadership in public, and the leadership by the students hits home not only professionally, but it is deeply personal,” said Sarah Myhre, a climate scientist and social justice advocate and founder and executive director of the Seattle-based Rowan Institute.

“My son is five. I will be his ancestor very soon. And it is unconscionable that we are leaving such a degraded planet to future generations,” Myhre, who also signed onto the letter from scientists, told Eos. “It is a profound moral outrage. I stand by the students in their anger and in their grief at the inaction of previous generations, including my own.”

Myhre also wanted to convey a message to the youth climate activists. “If I was to say something directly to them, I would say, ‘I love you, thank you, we will follow you. What you are doing is so important. Never let anyone tell you it’s not important. I’m sorry that we haven’t done better. You deserve better. You shouldn’t have to do this.’”

She added that “it’s a terrible position” that the youth have been put in that calls on them to take action on such a consequential issue. “Terrible but necessary.”

—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2019), Youth call for action with climate strikes, Eos, 100, Published on 14 March 2019.
Text © 2019. AGU. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
Except where otherwise noted, images are subject to copyright. Any reuse without express permission from the copyright owner is prohibited.