Climate kids march for climate action

Ruby Sampson (Supplied)
Ruby Sampson (Supplied)

There is a new movement in South Africa led by "climate kids" who will join a global school strike on March 15 to call for climate action from governments who they say are "stealing our future".

An estimated 2 000 pupils will gather outside Parliament in Cape Town and more at the Union Buildings in Pretoria as part of the Global Strike for Climate.

READ: Here are the SA cities facing the biggest threat from climate change

The worldwide protest was inspired by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, 16, who rose to fame after boycotting classes to sit outside the Swedish Parliament for three weeks in August last year in protest against lack of government action to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Thunberg, who has since been on a school strike every Friday, triggered a movement around the world where thousands of school children now cut classes on Fridays in protest against the lack of action from governments to curb climate change.

The latest action on March 15 will see school children - or "climate kids" as they have been dubbed - hold protest marches and rallies around the world to call for radical change in tackling climate change.

One of the prime movers of the climate protest locally is Wynberg Girls High School matric pupil Ruby Sampson, 17, who was inspired by Thunberg's speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

READ: SA falling behind on renewable energy

Call for political parties to acknowledge climate change

"Greta is just amazing. She is pretty much the start of this movement. When she went viral I listened to her speech at Davos and it got me involved in climate change. I am too young to vote, but we want our voices heard. Climate change is not even on the election agenda," Sampson said.

In an online notice, the protesters say they intend to "stand beside Greta Thunberg and our climate comrades across Europe, Australia and North America in the Global Strike for Climate".

They call for South African political parties to acknowledge the "climate emergency" and make climate action a priority in the 2019 election. They want a moratorium on new coal, gas and oil mining licences, 100% renewable energy by 2030, climate adaption education in schools and a "green new deal" for South Africa.

"This is the biggest crisis faced by humanity. We will be the first species to enable our own extinction," Sampson said.

Sampson, who made a four-year trip around Africa with her comedian father, Mark Sampson, mother Sam Pearce and brother Zola in the Africa Clockwise trip, said she had seen first-hand the impact of climate change on the continent and its people.

Apart from Sampson, speakers at the protest outside Parliament will include pupils from schools in Ocean View and Masiphumelele, representatives from Fossil Free South Africa, Earthchild and the local branch of Extinction Rebellion.

Getting the attention of those in power

Sampson had expected about 500 pupils to take part.

"But we've got huge support so it looks like it could be anything from 500 to 2 000."

Reverend Rachel Mash, environmental coordinator for the Anglican Church and one of those helping spread the word about the local protest, said the Church of England in the UK had come out in support of the school strike.

"The kids have got it but the politicians are still saying: 'Whaaat?' The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report said we've got 12 years to make massive shifts and the teenagers get that."

Sarah Farrell, one of the key organisers, said she was doing the work pro bono to help the school children, particularly with online communications.

"I believe that the cause is so important and that this is the way to get the attention of those in power."

A house on fire

Thunberg, who was fined by the Swedish government for her pavement protest, has since addressed delegates at the UN climate talks in Poland in December and the World Economic Forum in Switzerland in January. There she gave her "house on fire" speech, in which she dismissed adults who kept saying they needed to give young people hope.

"I don't want your hope. I want you to panic," she told billionaires at Davos. "And then I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if your house is on fire. Because it is."

Thunberg has criticised governments for not taking obvious action in tackling climate change.

"The solution is so simple that even a small child can understand it. We have to stop our emissions of greenhouse gases. Either we do or we don't."

Thunberg said she had embarked on her school strike because there was not enough direct action about climate change.

"One thing we need more than hope is action, because once we start to act, hope is everywhere."

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