Photo: BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images

What Is the Climate Strike? An Adult’s Guide to What, Why, and How to Help

, Senior analyst, Climate & Energy | September 9, 2019, 3:39 pm EST
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[UPDATE: The list of “Things You Can Do” below includes updates from the youth organizers of the climate strike as of Thursday, Sept 19th. Please read for the latest on how to take part in this important moment!]

TOMORROW, Friday, September 20, a rare moment will take place in the long and bruising climate fight: a youth-led, global demonstration of power, solidarity, and determination—and if history is any guide, real beauty, too. On this day, in thousands of locations around the world, young people—perhaps millions—will strike against a status quo of complacency, inaction, and injustice on climate change, and join voices to demand a livable future. Here are some exciting updates on how the strike is shaping up:

  • There are over 1000 events planned across the United States alone!! This is not just big city thing. This is not just a coastal thing. This is wall-to-wall America. Check out the map below.
  • There are over 4500 events happening in 142 countries worldwide. Find one near you!
  • In the U.S., NYC has given the green light for its 1.1 million students to join the strike and teacher organizations are encouraging their members to support student strikers.
  • LOTS of adults are planning to turn out, including trade unions representing hundreds of millions of people.
  • Organizers count more than 1000 companies as strike supporters. A partial list is here.
  • coalition of tech workers from some of the biggest tech companies (Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Twitter, Facebook, and more; though so far, not Apple) are walking out.
  • There are 5000 websites participating in the digital climate strike so far.
  • More than 700 medical professionals have signed this “doctor’s note” for striking students.

That’s a lot of strikes. Find one near you in the U.S. and around the world. Credit: https://strikewithus.org/

Wow, right? But as the strikes begin with students walking out of school in protest, some confusion, wariness, even skepticism on the part of adults is still common and understandable, but can hopefully be addressed and dispelled so we can make the most of this important moment.

Here are some things you need to know to about the strike, including why this moment is so vital, and how you can show your support as an ally to youth around the globe and right here at home.

Young activists at the March 2019 Youth Climate Strike in Santa Rosa, CA. Photo: Fabrice Florin.

What is the climate strike?

Just as striking workers gather to demonstrate their power and express their demands, like safer conditions and fair pay, students will walk out of school on September 20 to gather and voice their demands for urgent action and climate justice for all.

Credit: David Solnit

This strike is youth-led, with the 16-year old Swedish climate activist and original climate striker, Greta Thunberg, among its leaders. It is global, with more than 2500 events currently planned in 117 countries, and a large and growing number (511 and counting!) here in the US. It precedes the UN Climate Action Summit in New York City on Monday the 23rd and kicks off a week of climate actions and events planned around the world.

And it is meant for all: in a departure from the student strikes of the past year-plus, which have grown increasingly large and garnered increasing media attention, the youth organizers are not just welcoming but urging adults to participate side-by-side with them.

Why a strike?

Unlike a march or rally, a strike disrupts the business-as-usual workings of the day, thereby directly engaging those disrupted (e.g., employers, customers, supply chains) and gaining much broader attention. In the global climate movement, high points to date have included, here in the US, the People’s Climate March in New York City, 2014, and in Washington DC, 2017, where roughly 311,000 and 200,000 people turned out, respectively, in those cities alone. These events served to demonstrate the size of the movement and, as any participant can tell you, boost the morale and sense of solidarity of its members. But disruption was not the goal of these events.

That changes on September 20, because we are clearly at a moment in the climate fight when business-as-usual needs disruption, including those that strikes can provide.

Under business-as-usual, emissions from the burning of fossil fuels and forests have led us to a dangerous place. But for many adults, it’s been a comfortable ride so far; many in the US can’t easily reconcile the seeming security of their status quo with the existential dangers it’s bringing and profound injustice it’s deepening through climate change.

Business-as-usual is marching us toward an era of unrelenting climate strife, so if adhering to it is now a kind of lunacy, then disrupting it is vital. The world needs a loved one to grab and shake it and shout “what are you doing?” And, sadly, who better than its children? How better than with their global strike?

Why should we support it?

A 12-year old girl (my daughter) at the 2014 Climate March in NYC. Photo: Erika Spanger-Siegfried

When I was around Greta’s age, climate change was already in the news and on my mind. But unlike today, we had time then to arrest the problem, bend the upward curve our emissions were on, and avert really dangerous changes and impacts. And unlike Greta and today’s young climate activists, I had great confidence that we would do it. Anything else would be insane, disastrous, unthinkable. But here we are, several decades later.

We’ve already warmed the planet 1 degree Celsius. Young people, from recent high school graduates on down, have only known a world of record-breaking temperatures. Kindergarteners starting school this month have lived in the five hottest years on record. And with just this modest warming, each year brings new unprecedented catastrophes: hurricanes and cyclones, inland and coastal flooding, droughts, wildfires, and heat waves.

Today the problem is spinning rapidly, soon to be out of our control. Unlike the less-complicated hope and optimism I was fortunate to grow up with, today’s young people can’t hope to simply stop climate change. They must hope for things like slowing its rate of acceleration and learning to live with its consequences. Many are, sadly but rationally, growing up with fear and dread for the future. Also rationally, they have little confidence that our leaders will, on their own, do what’s needed to contain the crisis. Who can blame them? Emissions reached an all-time high last year and are continuing rise, critical policies like the US Clean Power Plan are being repealed, the US intends to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, the list goes on.

The world is still busily becoming a more fractured, exhausted, unjust, and now feverish place. Young people know we’re going to hand them a mess beyond fixing unless we start working harder and faster at fixes today. But they lack power to make those decisions. The youth climate movement is their collective voice. The strike is their moment to make the world listen. And they’re asking adults to help them be heard.

My colleagues and I recently analyzed the changing spread and frequency of deadly heat. It was a sobering piece of work and deeply troubling to many on our team. We found, by mid- and late-century, a quadrupling and an eight-fold increase, respectively, in days of deadly heat in the US, and the alarming spread of days so hot they defy calculation with the National Weather Service heat-index formula.

In wrestling with how to communicate these  results, we concluded that there’s no excuse for holding back anymore. The time for reticence has passed and it’s time to take risks, speak up, fight hard.  We concluded that report this way: Our future […] is not a future the children of the 21st century would choose for themselves. The rest of us chose for them. We now face another choice: to protect what we can of that future and ensure it is recognizable and safe for today’s children and youth as they live out their lives. Or to let us all, but especially them, face the gravest consequences of the course we have set. The people who will inhabit and steward this rapidly changing century deserve our hardest, most ambitious work today to hold the line and defend the future.

In fact, it is those people who are already trying to hold the line and defend their own future through these strikes. They deserve so much better. At the very least, they deserve our support and solidarity on September 20. And frankly, they deserve those of us who can to join them in the streets.

Two boys at the 2017 People’s Climate March in Washington DC. (My son on the left.) The green sign reads: Climate Warrior in the Making. Photo: Erika Spanger-Siegfried

UPDATED: How can we help?

If we can, we should strike on September 20.

Find a strike near you, take a few hours, show up. Not only will you be showing up for the younger generations and playing a direct role in the climate fight, you’ll be helping to represent the millions of adults concerned about climate change, many of whom can’t afford to miss a day’s wages, can’t take a day off without risking their jobs, can’t get to a strike, or can’t physically participate. You don’t necessarily need to take the entire day, but if you can attend a strike event in person, do it.

Most importantly, the youth strike organizers are asking all supporters to do the following TODAY (this is a a copy and paste from their shareable doc here):

  1. Go dark on social media! Update your profile pictures to the black circle attached.
  2. Make and post a #StrikeWithMe sign if you haven’t already done so.
  3. If you’re attending a strike on Friday, learn how to submit photos and video to us, plus sign up to be part of our nationwide live-stream.
  4. Send any pre-strike content you’d like to be featured in our live-stream to content@strikewithus.org, such as photos and videos of you preparing to strike, your art builds, making signs, etc. by 5 pm Thursday 9/19.
  5. Post to Twitter/Instragram/Facebook: TOMORROW, young people and adults are coming together all over the U.S. and world to call on government officials to take immediate climate action. Visit StrikeWithUs.org to find a #ClimateStrike near you! #StrikeWithUs

And there’s more:

  • If you’re a member of an NGO, faith institution, business, union, community group, or other organization, sign on as a strike supporter here. And if you haven’t yet informed your members of the strike, now’s the time! You can encourage people to join a strike in the U.S. here and outside the U.S. here.
  • Does your organization, business, etc. have a website? If so, join the digital climate strike! Check it out.
  • Grab and distribute some of the beautiful strike artwork on paper, stickers, posters, social media or some other creative way you might have up your sleeve.
  • Speaking of creative, take a page out of this person’s book and advertise the strike in a prominent spot. A little chalk, e.g., goes a long way in grabbing attention and helping to build the buzz.
  • Make your sign tonight! Here is some inspiration from the November strike last year and others here.
  • On the day, take photographs and share them on social media.
  • And remember, adults didn’t create the climate strike. Young people are the hosts, we’re invited guests, and we should act accordingly and follow their lead.

If you can’t leave work tomorrow, I’m sorry, we’ll miss you, but there are other ways you can take part and lend your support.

From the signs and art, speeches and singing, and the spirit and passion of those on strike, I expect that the day the youth climate movement is building will be something to behold. As happens when strangers gather in an act of peaceful protest, it will be a gift of solidarity that strikers give each other to energize and sustain for the fights ahead. And it can also be that shoulder-shaking gift, given by millions of strikers, to a world that so badly needs it.

There are few moments of truly great potential in this grueling, bruising, too-often-losing climate fight. This is one of them. We need it. By stepping up, you can help make it so.

Photo: maisa_nyc

Photo: BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images
Photo: maisa_nyc/Flickr

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  • Kristin

    You do understand that by disrupting our community you will be putting children in harm’s way right? You are asking them to strike against an industry that LARGELY supports our community and feeds our CHILDREN! It is not just about a paycheck! Oil and gas drives and supports our community and they will not be met with support here. Especially since the protest on the fred hartman bridge caused a near fatal injury to one of our community members . I have heard stories of how people were stuck in traffic and their family member died in surgery and they couldn’t get to them to say goodbye. You are not just disrupting lives and the day to day, you are causing our community pain! The reality that you have to realize is that green peace set your strike up for failure and when you strike in our community people are going to gather from all around our community to stop you. What would you do if the oil and gas industry shut down tomorrow? It would be total chaos and worldwide panic. How many of you could get to work? How would we clothe and feed our children? There would be violence and total panic in the streets and our world would shut down. I understand you are fighting for a cause but let’s be realistic, there are petroleum products in everything we use and consume. In your clothes, shoes, vehicles, baby diapers, houses, and is used to preserve all the food you eat. I am sending this message not because I dont want a safe environment for my children but because your cause will not be met with anything but anger here in baytown and the houston area. I understand you are fighting for a cause and you have every right to do so but all of the parents and community members here are not worried about your little protest, they are worried about how many of their children will be put in danger due to your stunt. I hope you dont remove this post, my intention is not to be rude or disrespectful but informative and if someone tries to control the opposing opinion and deny my freedom of speech then you are no longer an activist, you are a communist and are a threat to our democracy.

  • Tiredofignorantpeople

    The bottoms of your shoes, fossil fuels. The stretchy pants everyone loves after a Thanksgiving dinner, plastics from fossil fuels. The safe, airplanes you ride, fossil fuels. The life saving equipment in hospitals saving babies and elderly, fossil fuels. Come on people. Stop listening to people who make money off of you. Educate yourself. Renewables won’t do it. I’m all about energy. Cheap, abundant l, reliable, low cost energy, For states in which solar and wind make up 50 percent of the power grid, check to see how expensive electricity it is when power and wind can’t do it’s job. Do you know where battery’s are dumped? Come on. Do your homework and stop standing for what you know nothing about. If your position was really that believable, why isn’t it at the top of the presidential debate? Yet taxes still are the top. If we will all be dead, taxes won’t matter. Your politician doesn’t believe your stand, they just want your vote. Imagine being on a surgeons table without fossil fuels. What’s he going to use to save your loved one or you? A stick?

    • Sir: I wonder how humanity survived for the ten’s of thousands of years before fossil fuels came to save the day? Perhaps we should be thinking about shrinking (Through attrition) our ever expanding population down to a size that our only livable planet can comfortably support. This World speaks, but man refuses to listen, thus you have disease, poverty, heat waves, firestorms, droughts, floods and of course endless war. Fossil fuels have created a disease I call Greed and the Lust for Power and Profit. It infects this whole planet. The rich must have a steady supply of new consumers for it’s products, as well as a steady supply of cheap-slave wage labor, as well as cannon fodder for its wars; thus no support for Birth Control. If we all got busy and re-learned how to think for ourselves we could do away with politics. And if we would learn what joy there is in living a simple life we would not be so inclined to purchase the tons of useless crap we currently run up our ‘credit cards’ to have, thus guaranteeing you will be a debt wage-slave…..

  • Dshakes

    Is the Strike supporting a particular position or action or is it just to gather together and say something must be done?

    • Ms. Greta Thunberg, says” No more words, We demand ACTION on climate change.” And did the politic body act? No, they went right back to “Business as Usual”. Some of them probably said: “Can’t we shut that little brat up?” These kids realize that our generation is not going to leave them a ‘livable’ planet, as we are using every resource up as fast as we can get our greedy little hands on it. And we WILL go to war to get it if we have to, so yea, I can understand their concerns. And we would be wise to LISTEN to them…..

  • michael davids

    I think a true strike would be to turn everything off for a day. We are all complicit as long as we buy fossil fuel. In a fossil fuel strike, we would see what we would have to give up to make a difference and might even discover new ways to save. And the purveyors of fossil fuels would be hurt in the only place that matters to them–their wallets.

    • Erika Spanger-Siegfried

      Now wouldn’t THAT be interesting!

    • Martin srugis

      Dont forget the government will also lose millions of dollars and will not have the funds to continue programs.

    • I second that motion! The only way to save our planet is to “Starve The Beast.” I live 18 miles from the nearest town, and I got my gas use down to 5 gallons a month, I only go there once a month, buy everything I need for another month. Since I live simple, I do not need that much “Stuff”, Books are really useful once you toss out your boob tube, you find you have time to enjoy reading a good book. I still send paper checks out for bills, donations, etc. When I want something that costs more than $100.00, I save up and pay cash.This way, I stay out of debt, and am a free man.

  • Aldous Orwell

    I teach in a public high school. I will be striking. I am the only one of the 150 faculty who will be doing so, but I feel it is essential for my students that we older folks lend our voice and actions to aid in their futures. (Otherwise, why even bother to teach?) I will return to campus after I strike, at 3:30 pm and will show “Before the Flood” and run a discussion of it afterwards. I hope the lure of extra credit will bring some of my students to attend. I hope others can emulate such simple actions as wqell.

    • Erika Spanger-Siegfried

      Aldous, thank you for standing up! I hope that by next Friday, you won’t be alone among the faculty. You might like this opinion piece on what teachers can do in this moment and how important they are: https://www.concordmonitor.com/Student-climate-strike-28184767

      • Erika Spanger-Siegfried

        Let your colleagues know that the NYC public schools just announced that they’re giving kids the green light to strike. This is not some fringe thing.

    • Well, I see here 149 people who could give a damn less about the Climate, they just want their paycheck, I am sure glad none of them is going to be my teacher. Are all humans these days intentionally blind? There might be a future if you are old, but it will be short, these kids have a whole life-time to try to cope with the mess we are leaving them, the most we can do is get out there and show our support—-Make up signs, cardboard and marking pens are just fine. Take a stand, or you cannot say that you “LOVE” your children…..

  • I am a 73 year old guy and Ms. Thunberg is my heroine. I have been working for years to educate my fellow men/women, that the one and only problem we have is that infectious, deadly disease called “GREED and the LUST for POWER and PROFIT” That is the enemy we have to defeat, The rich will not accept being Less Rich, and if the protests get to loud or popular you can bet they will send in agitators to stir up violence, so the protester’s can be arrested, and the protest quelled. There is no cure for this disease, the only way to defeat it is to starve it to death, but which I mean: QUIT giving them your money, the more you use those credit card traps, the more of a wage slave you become, and the more of your freedom is lost. If you must buy ‘Stuff’ save up until you can pay cash, and by that time you will realize how little you really needed it, if at all. When I trashed my T.V. 30 years ago, I gained ten more years of real life. I live as simple as possible, shop locally, and spend the money I save by the simple life to donate to worthy causes, like this one. Free yourselves from that Credit Trap, you will find out how to be happy and enjoy a debt free life…..P. S. My sign has been made up for years, ready to go……

    • Erika Spanger-Siegfried

      Alaska man, way to be! I hear you. Thanks for sharing these thoughts.

      • Ms. Spanger-Siegfried, Thank YOU, for actually reading my comment, not many do. I am ashamed at the small-mindedness of so many of my fellow humans. It is my belief that if so-called Mankind, were to achieve total peace and harmony we would shortly find a large part of this wonderful, beautiful Universe to be open to us, In other words, perhaps we could meet our distant neighbors. It will never happen, however if the neighbors fear we might arrive bearing Small-pox blankets. Since our radio/T.V. broadcast have now traveled 50 light years from earth, any peace-loving planet would be horrified at what they heard in them. Thus, no contact, we are exiled until we find peace on earth, or destroy ourselves, as seems to be the course we are on now. I would suggest for you and your friends there at UCS. a book named; “The Experience, A Celebration of Being.” By Sirio Esteve, published by Random House 1974 (Available at most used book sellers online for as little as $1.00 + 3.99 shipping. It could have been written yesterday, I bought over 40 copies and gave them all away to people I thought would read it. It should be required reading in 8th. grade and up classrooms. Let me know if you happen to read it. Your fan, George Trudeau……

  • Karen Slywczak

    Help our young people wake up the world!! If you are in your 60’s or older, you can remember when we were taught in school that we all needed to face the problems over dependence on fossil fuels was causing, the pollution, their finite amount. And when Nuclear Energy was touted as a solution, one of my science teachers had to be USHERED OUT of the assembly because he dared to protest this message.
    These many years later, we are still facing many adults who don’t get, don’t see what we are doing to our precious planet.
    Please help any way you can on Sept 20, with the youth led world wide protest day!

    • Erika Spanger-Siegfried

      Thanks for these sentiments and perspective, Karen. We need brave voices like your teacher’s today!

    • Dshakes

      Sorry, but I’m afraid we don’t have the luxury of relying only on renewable to get us out of this mess. We must be willing to keep nuclear as part of the mix – especially 4th generation reactors. Mind you I have come 360 degrees on this position.

      • Sir: I remember this “Atomic Power, too cheap to even meter” We all saw how well that worked out. And what about Nuclear Fission? Just ten years away (Forever) How many Billions of bucks cost over-runs, redesigns and infighting on that project in France, which, I know will also be just another bug dud, but it does keep the Scientists employed, and not seeking to build another Thermo-Nuclear bomb big enough to take out a whole country with one pop. We have plenty of power if people were not so wasteful of it: Cities lit up all night so bright they can probably be seen from the moon now. Office buildings, banks, etc. 80 or 100 levels where the heat and A/C run 24/7. And now the need for A/C about to burst that bubble, I read where New York had a ninety-five degree day, and the Power Co. big wigs had to decide which Borough to cut out of the grid, before every transformer blew out from the load. The hotter it gets, the bigger the load will be and then the brown-outs and the black-outs will be a daily reminder of our careless usage of our planet. By the way have our geniuses figured out where to hide all that Nuclear waste that is accumulating around the world?