THOUSANDS of pupils took to the streets across the UK yesterday in a national protest calling for action on climate change.
Defying criticism from head teachers and the prime minister, schoolchildren in more than 60 towns and cities took part in marches calling on the government to declare a climate emergency and take active steps to tackle the problem.
Organisers Youth Strike 4 Climate said protests took place in more than 60 towns and cities, with an estimated 15,000 taking part.
Meetings took place outside town halls from Truro to Inverness and from Norwich to Ullapool, with the largest crowds converging on parliament in Westminster, at one point blocking Westminster Bridge.
The action was part of a wider global movement, Schools 4 Climate Action, which began when 15-year-old Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg skipped classes to sit outside government buildings, accusing her country of not following the Paris Climate Agreement.
The climate activist, who has Asperger’s. quickly became a global phenomenon, being invited to speak at the UN and the World Economic Forum at Davos, where she told world leaders: “I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day – and then I want you to act.”
With more than 182,000 followers on Twitter Greta, now 16, has inspired thousands of other young people across the world to carry out similar protests, many of them with placards bearing slogans such as “There is no planet B”.
Students participating in yesterday’s day of protest in the UK demanded that the Government communicate the severity of the ecological crisis to the public and reform the curriculum to make it an educational priority.
Anna Taylor, 17, of UK Student Climate Network, said: “We’re running out of time for meaningful change, and that’s why we’re seeing young people around the world rising up to hold their governments to account on their dismal climate records.
“Unless we take positive action, the future’s looking bleak for those of us that have grown up in an era defined by climate change.”
In a TV interview she said: “I feel very disappointed that 15,000 students had to walk out of school today. We feel deeply betrayed by past generations and past governments.”
The campaign has also received celebrity backing.
On Twitter, TV presenter Chris Packham wrote: “Across the planet we have elected a confederacy of idiots obsessed with short term greed.
“Well today a bunch of children and young people are going to show them up. Bloody marvellous isn’t it!”
Theresa May was attacked by Labour politicians after saying that those taking part in the strike were “wasting lesson time”. And activist Greta Thurnberg responded on Twitter: “That may well be the case. But then again, political leaders have wasted 30 years of inaction. And that is slightly worse.”
Other young activists promoting the strike included 17-year-old wildlife ambassador Bella Lack and 14-year-old Dara McAnulty from Northern Ireland, an autistic naturalist and conservationist who demanded that governments declared our time “an ecological emergency”.
The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) said that while it supported the rights of young people to express themselves, it did not condone students being out of the classroom to take action.
But writing in the Huffington Post, Caroline Lucas, the MP for Brighton Pavilion and former leader and co-leader of The Green Party, said: “Our children recognise that they are living through a climate emergency. They are striking today because they know we cannot carry on as normal.
“There have been some who have questioned today’s strike – asking if climate change is enough of an ‘exceptional circumstance’ for children to miss lessons. But if the threat of civilisational collapse and the possibility of the end of life on Earth as we know it is not an exceptional circumstance, then I don’t know what it is.
“We’re already feeling the effects of climate breakdown. Nature and wildlife populations are at tipping points. Wildfires and droughts are becoming increasingly common.
“And in October last year, the United Nations warned that we have only 12 years left to transform our global economy and prevent catastrophe.”
She said young people were issuing a wake-up call and showing “courage and leadership where the adults in charge show none”.
Her message was echoed after the protest by Chris Packham, who Tweeted: “Day 1 – superb . And authority responded predictably – from headmasters to government . Never trust – always question them, be peaceful but forceful, rational and informed . The future is yours not theirs. Seize it.”
And energy minister Claire Perry said she was “incredibly proud” of young people’s passion and concern.
She told the BBC: “I suspect if this was happening 40 years ago, I would be out there too.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said schoolchildren were “right to feel let down by the generation before them” and said it was “inspiring” to see them making their voice heard.