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As millions of people of all ages joined the first-ever global #ClimateStrike on Friday—answering a call from students of the school strike for climate movement—youth activists from around the world shared why they are compelled to take to the streets to demand more ambitions efforts to tackle the planetary crisis.
The youth-led strike comes ahead of the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York City on Monday and launches a week of action that will culminate in another global strike on Sept. 27.
The demonstrations follow months of students—many inspired by Swedish teenager and Fridays for Future founder Greta Thunberg—striking from school once a week in hopes of pressuring governments across the globe to heed scientists' warnings and step up their climate policies.
This Friday, as adults left their homes and offices to stand alongside young people, young strikers explained their motivations for participating in the climate movement:
Sophia Geiger, 16-year-old national coordinator of Fridays For Future in the United States
"We are striking because business as usual is a death sentence to those already on the frontlines of the climate breakdown as well as generations to come. To make it through this crisis we need to tear down the systems that oppress us and rebuild our society to be just, sustainable, and respectful of the interconnected web of life of which we are just one part. We owe it to our planet and to ourselves to fight for a better future with everything that we have."
Chantal Dette of African Climate Alliance in Cape Town, South Africa (DW)
"What motivates me the most is that about a year ago my country was suffering water shortages and drought. We faced the 'day zero' scenario when the taps will be turned off. People in the Cape Flats [the townships on the outskirts of Cape Town] were really suffering."
Tristan Vancleef, 16-year-old climate striker in Brussels, Belgium (Reuters)
"This is about my future, not only my future, but the future of my entire generation and all the generations to come after ours."
Katie Eder, 19-year-old executive director of Future Coalition in the United States
"Our world as we know it will no longer exist if we continue down the trajectory that we're going. Something must be done. Elected officials and world leaders have shown us that they do not yet have the courage to take the action necessary to save the planet on their own. And so we must show them. We must tell why it's important. The solutions are out there. There is still time to do something. There is still time to fix what we've broken. But we must act now."
Asheer, climate striker in Delhi, India
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Supriya Patel, partnerships coordinator of Earth Uprising in the United States
"I strike for my family in India who are forced to breathe toxic air every day. I strike against the systems that cause them to be hit first and worst by the climate crisis. I strike because though the climate crisis will hit marginalized communities the most, corporate greed is universal."
Tariro Banganayi, 18-year-old student at Sacred Heart College in Johannesburg, South Africa (Guardian)
"It's important that I lend my voice to this cause. ...A lot of people who aren't as privileged as I am don't have the opportunity to speak out against these sorts of issues, who live where the air is unbreathable, where toxic waste is dumped in rivers, those people don't have a voice to speak out. ...Also I am here to educate people about these issues and to get as much information from as many different places as I can. ...I am going to try to diversify the way that I raise awareness. ...I am going to use my social media a lot more effectively, I am going to center my conversations with my friends, I am going to bring it up at the dinner table with my family... because if every person tells one person then we can tell everybody."
Fardeen Barakzai, head of the local group Oxygen in Kabul, Afghanistan (AP)
"We want to do our part. We as the youth of our country know the problem of climate change. We know war can kill a group of people. ...The problem in Afghanistan is our leaders are fighting for power but the real power is in nature."
Aman Sharma, climate striker in Delhi, India
“We are here to reclaim our right to breathe, our right to live and our right to resist”
— Avinash chanchal (@AvinashChanchal) September 20, 2019
Mattis Johanssen, 18-year-old climate striker in Stockholm, Sweden (Reuters)
"We have to send a message to the politicians that the environment is more important than education."
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Wendy Gao, technical coordinator of Earth Uprising in the United States
"As the child of Chinese immigrants, education is one of the most important pillars of my life. My parents sacrificed everything so my sisters and I could obtain a higher education and lead a better life than they did. I'm striking and skipping school today so other students and I can go to school tomorrow."
Jessica Ahmed, 16-year-old climate striker in London, England (AP)
"If politicians were taking the appropriate action we need and had been taking this action a long time ago when it was recognized the world was changing in a negative way, then I would not have to be skipping school."
Fatima, climate striker in the United Kingdom
Fatima is striking for climate justice!
— YouthStrike4Climate (@Strike4Youth) September 20, 2019
Rachael Britt, co-leader of Earth Guardians Omaha in the United States
"I am striking because we are faced with a global threat unlike any we've encountered before. This is not partisan, but purely a matter of those in power deciding what is more important: their money, or the people who gave them said power."
Siobhan Sutton, 15-year-old climate striker in Sydney, Australia (AP)
"Even though we ourselves aren't sick, the planet which we live on is, and we are protesting and fighting for it."
Alyssa Carle, climate striker in Hudsonville, Michigan, United States
"I hope that we can make people see that climate change is real, and it's happening all around us as we speak. We deserve cleaner air, we deserve cleaner water, we deserve a cleaner world."
Angel, climate striker in Kampala, Uganda (DW)
"I am protesting because we want to keep the climate green. We have many environmental problems in Uganda, because the forests are being razed and wetlands are being drained. We have to protect the planet, there is no planet B."
Jess Ahmed of U.K. Student Climate Network
‘We want the government to acknowledge the severity of the climate crisis’
Millions of children are expected to join global climate strike
— Victoria Derbyshire (@VictoriaLIVE) September 20, 2019
Varshini Prakash, co-founder and executive director of Sunrise Movement in the United States
"Young people in more than 140 countries are taking to the streets to demand that our political leaders treat the climate crisis like the emergency that it is. Fossil fuel CEOs will stop at nothing to squeeze every last drop of money from the Earth—but our generation is mobilizing by the thousands and will strike again and again until we win. The momentum from today shows that any candidate for the American presidency who wants to win our generation's votes must commit to making the Green New Deal the number-one priority of their administration."
Ben May, president and founder of ThinkOcean Society in the United States
"I am striking because climate change is the most formidable challenge humankind has ever faced. With my generation's unrivaled passion, idealism, and enthusiasm, if change is to happen, it will be because we pressed aging politicians into action. If we don't come together and create change now, future generations will remember us as the people who stood idly as our world burned."
Vic Barrett, co-plaintiff of Juliana v. U.S. in the United States
"Because of the actions of the United States government and the fossil fuel industry, my generation has never known a world free from the impacts of climate change. Time is running out. This decade is our last chance to stop the destruction of our people and our planet. This is our time to join in solidarity with communities around the world to fight for a just future. This is why we strike."