Who on Earth are We Striking for?
By Imran Mulla.
Our climate strikes have proved incredibly successful. Last month Greta Thunberg met with senior politicians, and the government has now declared a climate emergency. The Youth Strike for Climate movement and Extinction Rebellion have succeeded in bringing the ecological crisis to the forefront of public discourse – so why do I feel uneasy about these recent developments?
As it has become clearer and clearer that we in the Global North will suffer from the climate crisis, people have started to panic. Young people have mobilised en masse to protest against government inaction. Everyone is now taking notice. On the face of it, this seems admirable. Adults tend to applaud us and tell us that our actions are heroic - but are they really? Put yourself in the position of a young person somewhere in the Global South – Guatemala, perhaps, or Bangladesh. You have been suffering from the impacts of climate change your whole life – droughts, famines, floods and extreme storms. The climate crisis has always been for you not some looming threat, but rather a daily reality. As a member of the poorest half of the world’s population who are responsible for only 10% of global emissions, you feel incensed at the injustice of the fact that the world’s richest 10% (including countries like the UK) who are responsible for most of the emissions are also the least impacted by the crisis – which has allowed them to largely ignore your plight. They are wealthy due to the economic system that keeps you in poverty, the system that values profit over your life. The people in these rich countries don’t seem to know or care about your struggles.
And then, you watch them learn that the crisis is heading their way, that within 12 years climate change will be irreversible, that they may begin to suffer from the violence you’ve faced all your life.
And so they start protesting. They cause disruption in their capital cities. The children of these countries, some of them your age, start missing school to protest on behalf of their futures. How do you feel about this?
I wanted to imagine how a young person somewhere in the Global South might feel about our activism because I’ve recently been feeling disillusioned with the dominant message – that we have twelve years left, and that we have to fight for our futures. The truth is that much of the world does not have twelve years left. This fight should not be reduced to preventing future catastrophes here in the UK; over a million people die all over the world each year because of the climate crisis. Why is it that we’re only moved to act when it’s our lives that are on the line? Aren’t the lives of people all around the world worth as much as ours? Is it even really admirable for us to protest if we’re just striking out of self-interest?
For too long, measures to stop climate change have just been about sacrificing the lives of people all over the world in order to make things easier for the global elites. Environmental campaigner Asad Rehman has said that the Green New Deal which Jeremy Corbyn supports is just a “new form of green colonialism” – because it will continue to “sacrifice the people of the global south to maintain our broken economic model”.
What I know about us young people is that we are not apathetic. If the youth learn the truth about this situation, we are the segment of this country’s population that are most likely take a stand. As young activists striking for climate justice, we have the opportunity and the responsibility to ground our activism in international solidarity. In the UK we have a legal right to protest, and the worst penalty that we face for striking is an after-school detention. That means that it’s a moral imperative for us to use our privilege to speak up on behalf of those around the world for whom speaking up means imprisonment or worse.
It’s highly likely that when the government takes action on the climate crisis, it will just be about protecting ourselves and leaving the rest of the world to suffer. That is not climate justice. As youth strikers, we have to establish from this stage that we demand systemic change, and that the only acceptable solution to the climate crisis is one that centres the Global South, one that puts an end to this global tyranny. We have to send the message that we won’t accept policies which are designed to save ourselves at the expense of the poorer parts of the world, because if we do accept those policies then there is nothing vaguely moral in what we are doing. The young people missing school and college to protest about the climate crisis have the opportunity to become the moral voice of the nation – to make the struggle against climate change a struggle for justice for people all over the world – and we have to take that opportunity. Otherwise, who on earth are we striking for?