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A fast-growing youth political movement made headlines today as students skipped school to raise awareness of what they describe as a “climate emergency.” Taking inspiration from adults who use strike action to gain better working rights, these kids and teenagers are making a stand on an issue that has a direct impact on their future lives.
The story began last year with Swedish 15-year-old Greta Thunberg, who started missing school each Friday to protest outside the Swedish parliament. She soon attracted international media attention, and her direct, passionate stance on the subject helped her TED talk to go viral, with over a million views. Three months later, students in countries such as the UK, Belgium and Germany are following her lead.
The students are working together to raise awareness of the impact of climate change on the environment, to counteract climate change-deniers, and to put pressure on their national governments to take more drastic action. Today, newspapers and online publications have been filled with quotes from well-informed young protesters, explaining why climate change is an urgent crisis. While some commentators have criticised the students for missing a day of valuable education, most have praised them for taking action on an issue that matters to them.
It may be true that Gen Z are obsessed with smartphones and social media, but the assumption that this makes them shallow and unaware of topical issues is clearly disputed by events such as today’s protest. As digital natives, Gen Z have grown up with access to unlimited information and different perspectives on world events, thanks to those same tech innovations that they are criticised for their addiction to. Environmental problems, along with gender equality, racism, animal rights and other issues, have become causes Gen Z feel a personal responsibility to tackle.
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