Walking into the square at the Kadikoy docks in Istanbul, I had expected to see perhaps a couple of dozen people holding placards and taking photographs – at the very least, I was skeptical that the 2,000 or so people registering their interest on the Facebook event would show up. Instead I was confronted with hundreds of people, tailed by a contingent of armed riot police, marching through one of Istanbul’s busiest neighborhoods.
The event here was only one instance of the youth strikes against climate change happening all around the world last month, to be followed by more throughout the coming week. Two dates – the 20th and 27th of September – bookended the protests backed by organisations ranging from the World Wildlife Fund to Greenpeace, with the participation of workers unions from all over the world. This first date was set by the “Fridays for Future” movement, started by 15 year old Greta Thunberg in 2018 when her three-week protest for climate change action in front of the Swedish parliament went viral. She has since met Former US President Barack Obama, gained the “blessing” of Pope Francis, and scolded climate negotiators at the UN. She is now leveraging this celebrity to drive international protests, recently leading one in New York.
But the point of these protests and the necessity now is not to highlight any individual, as Thunberg herself has stressed. Instead, the point is, as the strike’s official website declares, to “demonstrate that people are no longer willing to continue with business as usual.” In short, it is to show that just as climate change will affect vast numbers of people, there are vast numbers of people ready to fight for a solution. And numbers seem to bear out that claim: Thunberg wrote on twitter that the strikes had drawn 4 million people, adding “Change is coming – like it or not.” Organizers said that strikes in the UK brought out 300,000-350,000 people, while Australia saw a similar national turnout of 300,000, with more than 100,000 in Melbourne alone. Among the thousands of protesters in the US, with 60,000 in New York alone, workers from some of the country’s biggest tech companies including Twitter, Google and Amazon, came out to protest the complacency of their bosses.
Though this may be surprising given the rise to power of leaders such as Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro, with their denial and exacerbation of climate change, it is in fact an indicator of a generational shift occurring. A Gallup poll in 2018 showed that 70 percent of respondents between 18-34 were worried “a great deal” by climate change, as opposed to 56% of those over 55. A study by Yale this year showed that millennials in the US were the most likely generation to get organized, commit finances, and pressure politicians over climate change. And, further, a Harvard study in 2016 found that “a majority of millennials now reject capitalism.” Greta Thunberg herself has said that the future threatened by climate change was “sold so that a small number of people could make unimaginable amounts of money.”
Rejections of “technofixes” and “offsets” in favor of systemic solutions, as seen in the People’s Demands for Climate Justice signed by over 250,000 people, are understandable. When one considers that 71% of global emissions leading to anthropogenic climate change are released by only 100 of the world’s top companies, and that some of these either actively ignored their own studies predicting the negative effects of their businesses decades ago, or have contributed to disinformation on climate change to help their bottom line, it is hard to maintain that the solution is on the individual, everyman scale. Instead, hundreds of experts stress that the solution to the climate crisis runs through “transformative change” – and it seems that the coming generation is hearing this call.
It definitely felt that way in many parts of the world last month, including Istanbul. The hundreds pouring into Yogurtcu park, the final stop on the march that day, had come despite the heavy rain that now drenched their clothes. Though there were many chants on the way, I heard one more often than the others, which was repeated now at the end of the march: “Don’t change the climate, change the system!”
Image courtesy of Flickr. Originally published by S&S on October 8, 2019.