On Friday, 20 September, environmental activists across Canterbury called for a global climate strike. In Paris, New York, and here in the South East, people marched out into the streets to demand governments take action on climate change.
Inspired by the Swedish teenage activist, Greta Thunberg, and a vast majority of school children and students, more than 150 countries have taken part in this month’s major climate strike. This comes only three days before the Climate Action Summit at the United Nations.
Signs across the march produced slogans such as “Raise your voice, not sea levels”, “System change, not climate change” and “There is no planet B”.
The crowd, although mainly made up of schoolchildren, gathered adults, seniors, and students alike.
Some parents came with their young children, with one girl mentioning that her school had let students out to strike and march that day. Many teenagers, most of them not even 18 yet, took up the megaphone and shared the reasons they were striking that day, keen to stress the urgency of the situation.
A 16-year-old speaker declared: “if nothing changes, by the time I’m 100, New York will be underwater.”
Civil disobedience was the word of the day – a concept the environmental collective Extinction Rebellion pushes for as a vector of change.
Dr. Charlie Gardner, lecturer at the University of Kent in conservation biology, has praised civil disobedience before, as reported by Kent Online. As he put it, people complaining over civil disobedience are like the ones complaining about fire alarms, “but [fire alarms are] essential for you to have any chance of putting that fire out. And we are the fire alarm”.
The impression that could be gathered from attending the march was a fascinating mixture of despair and overwhelming hope. There was a real sense of strikers being aware of the urgency of the situation.
Canterbury City Council was one of the first local councils to declare climate emergency back in July, while still being hopeful and willing to stand up for what they believed in.
Leaders of the march reported that Rosie Duffield, the Labour MP for Canterbury, who was unable to attend the march, was enthusiastic to see such events taking place in Canterbury, and that the youth was getting so involved in the process.
In the many speeches that day there was a strong emphasis that was being put on the current economic system and the ways in it could be responsible for the vast majority of our environmental situation.
One speaker said: “We cannot go about business as usual, because there is no business on a dying planet.”
The general feeling around the protesters was one of anger towards an apathetic system of governance, and of not settling for political agreements.
As another speaker declared, beyond patting ourselves on the back for declaring climate emergency or setting up agreements like the 2015 Paris Agreement, we need to think about the ways in which our global economic system, however green you try to make it be, can only hurt the environment – you cannot have infinite economic growth on a finite planet.
Ellie, a second-year student at the University of Kent, attended the march, and stressed how enthusiastic she was to see so many people in Canterbury gathering to speak up against climate change, especially younger people. She also mentioned that she was glad people encouraged others to change their behaviours (towards meat consumption, modes of transportation) without putting the whole burden of saving the planet on individuals’ shoulders, and still reminding that big corporations were the first ones to be blamed for the environmental emergency we all face today.
Recently, protesting has become a daily reality for climate activists, with many schoolchildren still striking every Friday, joining Greta Thunberg in her “Skolstrejk för klimatet”.
The internet and social networks have made community organizing and activism a common occurrence, with organisations such as Global Climate Strike and Extinction Rebellion extending their activities and spreading their presence online.
As one teenager said at the march, “you do not wait for change to happen, you make change happen”.