How One Girl from Sweden Sparked a Global Youth-Led Climate Movement

On August 20 of 2018, a 16-year-old from Sweden began skipping school every Friday to sit steadfast outside the Swedish embassy, with a painted sign and some flyers, in protest of inaction on climate change. Greta Thunberg was specifically calling out the failure of politicians to bring the country in line with the Paris climate agreement.

Not long after, other students began to join her, transforming her one-woman-show into the #FridaysForFuture movement where youth walked out of class together each Friday in protest of government inaction on climate change. Within just a few months time, Greta’s first action of sitting on the steps of parliament had exploded into a global movement, culminating in today’s #SchoolStrike4Climate protests.

In 125 countries with 2,000 events worldwide, students have put down their lesson plans and taken to the streets of their cities to give adults a lesson in the need for direct and immediate action on climate change. According to, the worldwide strike today saw over one million students participating and counting. Greta has also just been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

photo via   Mashable

photo via Mashable

How one drop became an unstoppable wave

This movement had to happen, we didn’t have a choice. We knew there was a climate crisis. Not just because forests in Sweden or in the US had been on fire; because of alternating floods and drought in Germany and Australia; because of the collapse of alpine faces due to melting permafrost and other climate changes. We knew, because everything we read and watched screamed out to us that something was very wrong. - Greta Thunberg et al, for The Guardian

Greta first learned about climate change when she was 8 years old and has pegged the success of the climate strike movement on the fact that scientists are beginning to speak out more clearly about how dire the situation really is: “I think we have reached a tipping point where enough scientists are telling it like it is and not being so afraid of being alarmist.”

Despite criticism from political figures - who have managed to make themselves look extremely out of touch - more than 10,000 youth went on strike across the UK in February before the movement leapt overseas and went viral, transforming into the global #SchoolStrike4Climate taking place today. The student’s use of social media has allowed campaigners and organizers to connect with each other on unified and strategic messaging that has amplified the spread of the movement.


Too connected to fail

These strikes are happening today because politicians have failed us. We’ve seen years of negotiations, pathetic deals on climate change, fossil fuel companies being given free rein to carve open our lands, drill beneath our soils and burn away our futures for their profit. We’ve seen fracking, deep sea drilling and coalmining continue. Politicians have known the truth about climate change and they’ve willingly handed over our future to profiteers whose search for quick cash threatens our very existence. - Greta Thunberg et al, for The Guardian

Some of the protest signs emerging on Instagram under the #SchoolStrike4Climate hashtag have great water protection messages included. This one is from @climatechangetoo

Some of the protest signs emerging on Instagram under the #SchoolStrike4Climate hashtag have great water protection messages included. This one is from @climatechangetoo

Protests have been taking place for years as environmentalists and activists have pushed for change at annual events like the United Nations’ Climate Change Conferences. What makes this one any different?

As world leaders meet to set targets and goals year after year while failing to follow through on their promises to keep emissions down, combined with dire reports such as the one released last fall by the IPCC stating we have 12 years to divert an all-out climate meltdown, a perfect storm has been created. Young people - connected to each other through social media with access to scientific information at their finger tips - are done with awareness raising and want to see real, tangible action:

The focus of these protests is do something. My sense is the bad news was quite a significant catalyst and that begins to explain why you get this type of protest.- Brian Doherty, Keele University, UK

Youth on social media involved in the strikes have been making direct reference to the science, demonstrating that access to information has been a big factor in motivating a collective culture shift in the upcoming generations. And this time it isn’t just teens - younger children are also getting involved in the school strikes.

We are no longer alone. Tens of thousands of scientists from around the world have released statements in support of the strikes by children. The scientists have been very clear about what we need to do to tackle climate change. We are uniting behind the scientists. We are only asking that our leaders do the same. - Greta Thunberg et al, for The Guardian

Faced with inaction from the adults who hold positions of power in our current system, the youth climate movement has potential to create real, lasting change. The school strikes, along with novel youth-led class action lawsuits levelled at governments for failing to act on climate - including one recently launched in Canada - show that the upcoming generations are informed and in it for the long haul.

We have two youth water protectors joining us at the 2019 Water Docs Film Festival this year. 14-year-old Autumn Peltier is a water walker and protector who advocates for water to have the same rights as people (rights of nature movement) and will join us on Wednesday, March 20 to accept the 2019 Water Warrior Award. Gracie White Eagle is a 14-year-old Standing Rock Sioux tribe member and her debut film will screen also on the Wednesday, March 20th event. Gracie will sit on the post-screening panel discussion - join the conversation and register for your free ticket!

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Autumn is known as one of Canada’s youngest Water Activists and has become internationally known for her advocacy work and teachings to women. Her biggest event was speaking before world leaders on World Water Day in March 2018 at United Nations Headquarters in New York City where she told world leaders to “Warrior Up”. read more


Gracie White Eagle is a fourteen-year-old Standing Rock Sioux tribe member from Cannon Ball, North Dakota. "Gracie" is her first film, and was made in collaboration with the Babel Project, a youth media organization. In the film, Gracie and her mother reflect on the youth-powered movement against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which practically occurred in their backyards, and why the movement must not lose momentum. read more

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