Students in more than 120 countries clamoured for action on climate change at protests around the world on Friday, drawing inspiration from Greta Thunberg, a Swedish teen who has staged weekly solitary protests in Stockholm since August.
Hundreds of thousands of students around the world joined 16-year-old Thunberg – recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize – in urging politicians to tackle climate change and limit global warming.
Friday’s wave of demonstrations began in Australia and New Zealand before spreading to Europe and the Americas. Many of the rallies drew tens of thousands of people. Participants held signs with slogans such as “School strike for the climate,” “Don’t be a fossil fool” and “The ocean is rising and so are we.”
Zazie-Rea Taylor, 11, echoing comments by other students at rallies in other world capitals, told people in Wellington she wasn’t at the protest to skip school but because her future depended on action.
“I would prefer that science and technology were used to save the planet rather than exploit it,” Taylor said.
In Australia, hundreds of pupils gathered in Cairns, a city near the Great Barrier Reef, to kick off the global protest.
“I decided to skip school today because I care about our future,” 16-year-old Emma Demarchi told dpa in Melbourne. “What is the use of school if there is no planet for us to live in?”
In Stockholm, Thunberg spoke to the estimated 6,000 protesters who had gathered outside the Swedish parliament in a drizzling rain.
“We, the young, have not contributed to this crisis,” Thunberg told the crowds. “We will not accept it. We will not let it happen. Therefore, we are striking. We are striking because we want a future, and we will continue.”
Thunberg recently addressed world leaders at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland’s Davos and at the UN’s climate conference in Poland.
Elsewhere in Europe, around 30,000 people took to the streets of Brussels, with school children defying the rain to participate in demonstrations across the country, the Belga news agency reported.
Thousands of young people took to the streets of Paris and other cities across France to call for urgent action. Paris police put protester attendance at 29,000 in the French capital.
Young protesters in the Swiss city of Lucerne alluded to warmer winters with slogans such as “Grandma, what is snow?” And in Rome, students and other activists held up colourful banners, clapped and shouted slogans such as “There is only one planet!”
In Milan, a bigger protest attracted more than 100,000 people in the square outside the city’s cathedral, according to organizers quoted by the ANSA news agency.
Organizers of protests in Germany said more than 300,000 people took part in demonstrations across the country. The largest were in Berlin, Cologne and Munich, each with more than 10,000 demonstrators, according to police counts.
In Vienna, a crowd of 10,000 gathered in the city centre to protest the lack of political action, while some 1,500 students in the town of Bregenz rang their mobile phone alarms in unison to show that “time is running out” to protect the climate, protest organizer Alexandra Seybal said.
Sizeable turnouts were seen in many of India’s largest cities, with students in New Delhi demanding the Indian government stop using coal and act against climate change and air pollution. “No Breath, No Vote,” read one banner.
Dozens of rallies took place across the United States, but they were smaller than the ones in Europe.
A few hundred people gathered near the US Capitol in Washington, where one of the organizers, Serena Moscarella, 16, of Bethesda, Maryland, said she was concerned that adults haven’t done enough to guarantee a liveable planet in the future.
“We have only 11 years before climate change is irreversible, so I want to do as much as I can before those 11 years are over,” Moscarella told dpa.
She said Trump, who has moved to pull the US out of the Paris climate agreement, should be thinking about his grandchildren and “what kind of impact he wants to leave – if he wants to be on the right side of history.”
Several school strikes were planned in New York City, where Alexandria Villasenor, 13, has been protesting every Friday outside UN headquarters.
The climate activist was visiting family last year in California when a wildfire broke out and decimated the nearby town of Paradise, which she called a “wake-up call” on the effects of climate change.