Most know the dangers climate change poses to both our present and future, but I will give a refresher. We are already experiencing its impacts. Climate change exacerbated the drought in the Middle East that partly caused the Syrian Civil War, increased the frequency of the wildfires that ravaged California in the fall and one intergovernmental report found that climate change caused 400,000 premature deaths every year.
That is just the tip of the proverbial (melting) iceberg. The Paris climate accord’s urged governments to collaborate to keep long-term global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, but reaching that goal is becoming a pipe dream. With 2 degrees Celsius of warming (the Paris climate accord’s catastrophe threshold), 98 percent of coral reefs will die, sea levels will rise by approximately 50 centimeters (displacing more than a billion people by 2060), the Mediterranean region will have 17 percent less freshwater available and heat waves could increase. But now, 2 degrees of warming is looking like a relatively positive outcome.
Pledging to get to these thresholds is meaningless without actually taking action. Right now we are more on course for long-term warming in the range of 3.1 to 3.7 degrees Celsius, according to Climate Action Tracker. There are few estimates that translate these predictions into direct loss of human life, but if we are experiencing 400,000 premature deaths with barely 1 degree of warming, nearly 4 degrees will be Armageddon.
That all of these outcomes are rough estimates is part of the problem. Climate change will bring about continuous, unpredictable and dangerous change — a complete loss of normality for the rest of our and our children’s lives. And all of these impacts have and will continue to disproportionately impact people of color, low income and working class communities, women, LGBTQ individuals and indigenous communities.
These global challenges are so daunting that it is hard to know how to start trying to fight them. This Friday’s Global Climate Strike may be the last, best chance we have to broadcast student voices around climate action.
The Global Climate Strike is being led by high school students around the world. This wave of activism began with Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish activist, who has skipped school every Friday since August to demand the Swedish Parliament uphold its commitments to the Paris agreement. Her movement has spread around the world, and tens of thousands of students will be walking out of classes on Friday to protest global leaders’ failure to adequately address climate change.
It is important that everyone walks out of class on Friday at 11:11 a.m., comes to the subsequent rally at 12 p.m. on the Diag, and to the march at 1 p.m. because climate organizing of this magnitude does not happen often. The last march of this size was in 2015, when more than 600,000 people took to the streets in 175 countries around the world to push for a strong Paris agreement. If we wait another four years before making our voices heard, it will be too late. The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report called for dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. We simply cannot afford to wait another four years.
While this strike will not have the same numbers as the 2015 march did, it could be more powerful. Striking is more powerful than marching because it shows that we are willing to lose something to make our voices heard, even if that something is as trivial as lab attendance or iClicker points.
Furthermore, while in 2015 we were marching to show world leaders that we wanted an ambitious plan for global emissions reductions, now we are calling out leaders for failing to deliver on their promises. Hence, this strike is not organized by established environmental organizations and leaders; it is led by high school students inciting grassroots organizing around the world. Our claims have more urgency and more authority now than they did four years ago.
This strike is also important because we need to play our part by taking responsibility to influence the decision-making of the institutions we are a part of. If we do not actively try to change our institutions, we are complicit in their inaction. Conveniently, this strike comes at a critical juncture for our institutions at multiple levels. The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, the state of Michigan and the entire United States all face critical climate decisions in the coming months that we have the power to influence.
First, the University. President Mark Schlissel just created the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality, tasked with recommending emissions goals for the University. The commission’s members need to know that students recognize the existential threat climate change poses to our futures, so they act urgently to make the University carbon neutral by 2030. But the University needs to know that how they get to carbon neutrality is important too; purchasing carbon offsets allows the University to continue burning fossil fuels without accountability, while expanding the new Central Power Plant will bind the University’s hands in an enormous investment that will entrench our reliance on fossil fuels.
In Ann Arbor, city councilmembers are considering abandoning climate action. In November 2017, voters agreed to devote 40 percent of a new millage to climate action, including the creation of a sustainability office, as part of a larger plan that set how the city would use the money. However, new city councilmembers want to nullify the resolution without an alternative plan for climate action funding.
Last month, the Republican Michigan legislature rejected Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order to strengthen the Department of Environmental Quality by giving it greater oversight over water pollution.
Nationally, our two Democratic senators, Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow, have not signed on to the Green New Deal, the ambitious framework for addressing climate change recently proposed in the Senate.
While a massive strike may not directly lead to climate action from any or all of our representatives, our demonstrations matter. By showing we are willing to take risks and that we actively care about climate and our futures, our demands for climate action will be taken more seriously.
In his terrifying article on worst-case climate scenarios, David Wallace-Wells mentions how Jim Hansen, one of the first influential climate scientists, criticized environmental scientists for “scientific reticence” — they knew climate change was an issue, but were not bold enough to declare it an unambiguous crisis. The University, Ann Arbor, Michigan, the U.S. and countries around the world are performing their own institutional reticence. They are taking it slow or doing nothing at all when it is essential to take dramatic action right now.
It should be unacceptable for any of our institutions or representatives to continue slow-walking the process of climate change mitigation and adaptation. Our futures are at stake. Alone, we are just a bunch of college students yelling. But our voices are made more powerful in conjunction with the tens of thousands of students striking with us. Let’s play hooky for our futures.
Solomon Medintz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.