Fridays are for the future
Young people demand action to face the changing climate — and strive to safeguard the planet for coming generations
By Susanne Janssen
Greta Thunberg became an icon in just one year. The young girl with the serious expression and two blond braids was, and is, persistent in repeating her message: young people need a future, so the adults of the world should immediately act to concretely address climate change.
In just a year, she has inspired millions of young people with #FridaysforFuture to rally for the environment every Friday, purposely abstaining from school to protest — because safeguarding the planet is more important than good grades.
The eldest of two girls, Greta grew up in Stockholm. She studied piano, ballet and theater, and did well in school. Like many children, she watched educational films about the melting Arctic, the fate of the polar bears and the marine mammals bloated with plastic.
Yet unlike other children, and as a result of her neurochemistry — she was diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder — she couldn’t let it go.
“I became very affected. I began thinking about it all the time and I became very sad. Those pictures were stuck in my head.”
Last December she spoke to the climate summit COP24 in Poland. Her words were clear, and piercingly direct: “Our civilization is being sacrificed for the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue making enormous amounts of money. Our biosphere is being sacrificed so that rich people in countries like mine can live in luxury. It is the sufferings of the many which pay for the luxuries of the few.”
She painted a picture of her future, to which many young people can relate: “The year 2078, I will celebrate my 75th birthday. If I have children, maybe they will spend that day with me. Maybe they will ask me about you. Maybe they will ask why you didn’t do anything while there still was time to act.
“You say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes … We cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis. We need to keep the fossil fuels in the ground, and we need to focus on equity. And if solutions within the system are so impossible to find, maybe we should change the system itself.”
The idea spreads to the U.S.
With these clear words, Greta found followers in the U.S., too. Alexandria Villaseñor, 14, started to protest against climate change every Friday in front of the U.N. headquarters in Manhattan.
“My greatest concern is that my generation is completely unprepared to live our lives in a climate changed world,” she shares. “Everything that previous generations did will now need to be different. Climate change will affect the way we educate ourselves, our careers and even how we choose to have a family — and we’re not ready for any of it.”
Last year Alexandria experienced firsthand the Camp Fire, the deadliest blaze in the history of California, while she was visiting her family in Davis, nearly 100 miles away from Paradise. The smoke was too much for her asthma.
“My family had to book me a flight out of California early and fly me to New York, because I couldn’t live in that situation, especially not being able to go outside,” she shared.
What if situations like this became the new normal? Coming back, she started researching about the impact of pollution on the environmental balance. Reading about Greta and her determination made Alexandria decide to bring this wave to the U.S.
Her mother, Kristin Hogue, supports her decision. “My daughter didn’t really surprise me with her climate protesting. She has always stood up against injustice and is very connected to nature. She views the climate crisis as one of the greatest injustices that humanity has ever faced, and I also agree with her.”
However, what surprised her was the response to her strike. Reporters came, and videos went viral. “We didn’t think anyone would pay attention to a small girl in front of the U.N. with a sign.”
Kristin is not only Alexandria’s mom; she too is concerned about the future of our planet, having just completed a master’s degree in climate and society at Columbia University.
“We share our passion for this cause. As someone who has studied the science, I can unequivocally say that this is the greatest crisis humanity has ever faced.
“When I had children, I wasn’t aware of climate change, and I would often dream of how wonderful I thought their lives could be. Now I’m not so sure. In their lifetimes they will face catastrophic changes to our earth system. Because of this, I call my children the ‘adaptation generation,’ which means they’ll have no choice but to modify every aspect of their lives if we are to avert the climate crisis.”
Slowing down the changes
What can and should adults do? Most of us know that we need to change our lifestyle and at least start with something. No one wants to stop using cars, avoid every flight and become vegan all at once. But if many people choose to eat less meat, drive smaller, lighter cars, set the AC to a higher temperature and use more public transportation or even a bicycle, it would have an effect.
Kristin, however, knows that the economic situation of the average consumer does not allow them to choose carefully what to eat, for example, buying organic fruits and vegetables.
“Some people are so focused on just surviving that being sustainable is the last thing they’re able to think about. So we just have to be gentle with each other and do what we can. Some of us are able to change how we live, shop and eat, and we should be doing that if we can.”
There’s something else everyone could and should do: “What we need to be doing is contacting our governmental leaders,” says Kristin. “We need to be telling them climate change is real, that it’s urgent and that it will affect us all if they don’t act now.”
Unfortunately, many people don’t want to face the consequences, and therefore prefer to ignore the signs and continue to live just as before.
How can an environmentally conscious lifestyle come into vogue? “I don’t think it’s a matter of being trendy,” Kristin answers. “Climate change is an existential crisis: humanity either learns to live differently or we go extinct. Maybe we need to make the survival of the human race trendy.”
Now that the new school year has started, Alexandria keeps up her weekly appearance before the U.N. headquarters. And she has more plans: “I will be traveling to other Fridays for Future strikes around the country, and I’ll also be working on my nonprofit, EarthUprising.org.”
She wants to do her part so that in North America #FridayforFuture will become a mass movement. Her parents have agreed to allow her to do her schooling this academic year through an independent study program, so that she can continue to focus on the climate crisis.
She still intends to protest every Friday.
“I’ll return to the United Nations Headquarters and protest there when I’m in town. I will continue striking for the foreseeable future and until world leaders meet the demands of the Fridays for Future movement and my generation.”
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