Students take the lead on climate change

Issue: Volume 98, Number 17

Posted: 9 October 2019
Reference #: 1HA0HJ

On Friday 27 September about 170,000 school students, activists and adults in more than 40 towns and cities around New Zealand took to the streets to demand action on climate change.

Taranaki student activist Ethan Griffiths says that the recent global School Strike 4 Climate marches have been remarkable and have seen millions of students and people take to the streets. 

“You were just lost for words – it’s incredibly inspiring,” he says. 

Ethan is in Year 13 at Spotswood College, an organiser of the Taranaki strike and treasurer for the national movement. Student strikes held around New Zealand on March 15 and May 24 each attracted 30,000 students. 

The September strike was the first inter-generational strike. “While it is entirely youth-led, and we will live with the effects of climate change more than any other living generation, it is really important that older people get involved, because they hold all the power,” he says.

 “We would love to live in a society where we don’t have to strike but the government needs to take climate change seriously and act accordingly. 

“From a governmental policy perspective, I don’t think much has changed. But hopefully our constant pressure on government and select committees will get the Zero Carbon Bill [currently under consideration] changed a bit at select committee stage or at the whole house stage.”

NZ’s biggest youth movement

Ethan describes the School Strike 4 Climate movement as the biggest youth movement New Zealand has seen – comparable to the Springbok tour and Nuclear-free New Zealand protest movements of the 1980s. 

“In terms of a much broader aspect of youth empowerment and engagement, you have never seen a movement like it,” he says.
School Strike began with five people and now has about 100 organisers nationwide, aged between 12 and 18. 

“For the first three months of existence, we didn’t even have a governing body of our local group because we felt we didn’t need one because everybody was on the same page. We established one after we started getting lots of donations,” Ethan explains. 

“Prior to that it was just like ‘you want to organise a strike? Sweet. Let’s all jump on a Skype call, work out what our demands are and meet up at different places around the country!’ We’ve just grown incredibly, and I don’t think anybody predicted we’d be where we are now.”

Demands made

School Strike 4 Climate NZ has published a list of six demands which include: the government declaring a climate emergency, Parliament passing an ambitious Zero Carbon Act, ending the use of fossil fuels and building a renewable and regenerative economy. 

“Those are our core demands, six things, but they all fall under one banner, which is climate justice,” Ethan says. 

A recent demand added to the list asks government to honour its responsibility to our Pacific neighbours. 

“Climate change is not just about the Earth warming and making sure we lower emissions,” says Ethan. 

“You’ve got to consider so many other things, like the Pacific Islands especially. They start to lose their islands; they start to lose their culture. They lose their heritage because they have lost their homes and the expectation is that we pick them up and ship them over to New Zealand and treat them as refugees.”

Reality check in Taranaki

The Government has established a Just Transitions Unit to help share and coordinate the work of transitioning New Zealand to a low emissions economy. A summit was held in May 2019 in New Plymouth, but the issue is not just theoretical in a region like Taranaki.

“The reality is the Taranaki economy is fuelled by oil and gas and that’s why there needs to be significant emphasis made on transition to renewable and sustainable industries. If we ceased production, we would stop the livelihood of thousands of families in Taranaki. So you have to weigh those things up.

Birth of a youth movement

“We’d love it [September 27] to be our last strike but the likelihood is quite slim,” says Ethan.  

“This is the birth of a youth movement. We will start to see this next year when election rolls are out. Young people typically aren’t very engaged – you can see that with how often we vote. 

The school strike for climate is non-partisan, but young people have a good opportunity to get involved with next year’s election. Ethan says, the movement has a wide range of people, but all are committed to the same goals of action and climate justice. 

“Older people are getting inspired by the energy of youth and the School Strike movement.  We have an incredible battle on our hands and as Greta Thunberg puts it, our house is on fire. 

“Are we just going to ignore that or are we going to take action to change that? Because by the looks of things, our government doesn’t seem to want to take that action, and nor do world governments,” he says.

Connections to the environment important in curriculum

The New Zealand Curriculum aims to educate students to be connected to the land and environment, and to contribute to the social, cultural, economic and environmental wellbeing of New Zealand. 

The theme of sustainability is found in the Vision, Principles, Values and Key Competencies and explicitly through several of the learning areas. This provides schools with significant scope to include sustainability as part of their learning programmes. 

Check out Pūtātara: A call to action on global citizenship and sustainability. This curriculum resource helps teachers and students to explore issues such as climate change and develop global citizenship capabilities, critical inquiry skills and how to become active agents for change. 

Pūtātara(external link) supports learning in The New Zealand Curriculum in Years 7–10.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 1:30 pm, 9 October 2019

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