Skipping school

COP21 youth demonstrations call for a student walk out


For the first time in more than 20 years of United Nations negotiations, the 2015 Paris Climate Conference (COP21) aims to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, with the goal of keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius and taking monumental steps toward global governance on climate change.

Although past conferences have produced several significant agreements, the actual contributions have been stymied by the absence of binding agreements. With the stakes for this year’s conference mounting, COP21 is emerging as a landmark event in the climate crisis as 195 global leaders meet to define and protect internationally shared resources.

Historically, the UN’s Conference on Climate Change is heavily attended by environmental activists and marked by numerous demonstrations, and this year’s conference was shaping up similarly. In October, thousands of people broadcast plans to take part in what they hoped would be the largest demonstration in environmental history in Paris, termed the Climate Games, and emulating the 2014 People’s Climate March in New York City.

But the situation created by the attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 led the French government to ban climate marches and demonstrations, unless they are organized in enclosed and secured places. With the ban, planned demonstrations are crumbling and global citizens are left without a way to participate in the creation of a new regulatory framework that will affect us all.

But at least one demonstration will continue. The Climate Strike is an international youth-organized call for one million students to walk out of class, sending a message to the climate leaders at COP21. The action is being organized by the Climate Strike youth network and Earth Guardians, a youth-led nonprofit based in Boulder.

Earth Guardian’s Campaign Director Russell Mendell feels the strike has added importance in light of the scaleback in demonstrations, saying that the local aspect of the strike will create a vital connection between Paris and communities around the world.

“Nationally, really what we are trying to do is control the way that the narrative goes for these talks,” Mendell says. “We are hoping to inject a sense of urgency, with young people talking about their future and what [climate change] means for them. Young people standing up all around the world [with] one dominant narrative … frontline communities are being affected right now and there are solutions to the climate crisis right now and young people are prepared to work on this and build these climate solu tions.”

There is a deep sense of frustration that arises from young people, scared about their futures and worried that everything they love will be lost. But Mendell is hopeful that the decentralized Climate Strike will allow them to help shape a better world.

The idea for the strike came at the Global Youth Summit in Germany earlier this year. Youth leaders from the international community planned the strike, hoping people all over the world would show their solidarity by skipping school on Nov. 30. This key action, the strike or walk-out, is an invitation for students to boycott class to put pressure on the leaders, both globally and locally.

As the day of the strike approaches, the tough rhetoric about striking is easing as organizers focus less on the walkout and emphasize alternative actions that students may find more inviting. Local Climate Strike activity is being expanded to include ribbon installations, in-class climate discussions and options to support ongoing environmental campaigns, like the youth-led campaign asking schools to divest their investment funds from fossil fuels. In Boulder, there is confirmed strike activity at Fairview, Watershed School, Waldorf and the University of Colorado that will link to global activity on social media.

Regardless of the type of action, Mendell says educational institutions like universities and schools are a key place to start transforming society.

“The idea is that if we can get traction at schools and universities maybe we can actually start to demonstrate solutions, moving toward renewable energy, organic gardening and that sort of thing,” he says. “Demonstrating that these solutions are possible will help to break this culture of cynicism around the climate issue.”