Climate Strikes: Are They Effective and Is Greta Thunberg the Future of Environmental Efforts?

Emily Folk

Climate action will not happen by the will of political leaders, monied interests, or apathetic citizens. As Robert Kennedy once said: Each time a (person) stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples, build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance." What Greta Thunberg and others like her have started, we can all finish together.

The idea of consciousness-raising dates back to the feminist movement of the 1960s. It’s a form of pro-social propaganda designed to raise awareness of, and provoke a response to, a specific issue. These efforts have improved awareness about and brought about action on women’s suffrage, the AIDS epidemic, genocides and the corrupting influence of moneyed interests.

Each time, the goal is to “wake up” a critical mass from among the general population about an issue that affects them or otherwise takes a toll on human life and prosperity.

Of all the consciousness-raising campaigns over the generations and years, the one surrounding global climate change is the most urgent, as well as the most controversial.

How Big Are the Climate Strikes?

According to Climate Strike, late 2015 saw one of the first examples of a massive organization on behalf of the Earth. The 100-nation strikes included over 50,000 participants and coincided with the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris.

September 2019 topped the 2015 strikes with a weeklong international climate demonstration called the “Global Week for the Future.” It was the United States’, Germany’s and the world’s largest climate strike to date and included more than 4 million people.

These strikes have gained significant momentum and people power over the years. They have awakened more of the public to the urgency of climate change, but have they provoked practical and tangible results? The answer says more about the system the strikes are up against than it does the message.

What Is the Goal of These Climate Strikes?

Consciousness-raising is the most important priority of these global strikes. There can be no organized response to climate change and ecological collapse without widespread awareness, understanding, and popular support for a practical but urgent response.

The goals are:

  • To demand that current and future political leaders recognize and take urgent action on climate change, including hardening emissions regulations and other environmental protections.
  • To carry out a swift global divestment from fossil fuel use and investment, as well as a halt on building new infrastructure and engaging in oil and gas exploration.
  • To inspire public and private investment in renewable energy projects and shift subsidies, grants and tax incentives from fossil fuels to clean technologies.
  • To ensure that average citizens who find themselves caught in the renewable energy transition can seek retraining opportunities and other support under a Green New Deal.

The climate strikes are working hard to remind average people that a true “moon shot” is not out of our reach when it comes to climate change. The combined political and financial clout of the world’s most prosperous nations is more than enough to turn this thing around and restore hope to billions.

Why Are Climate Strikes so Effective?

Climate change strikes have reached people around the globe. They’ve convinced many holdouts that only systemic change is enough to prevent what’s coming, which is wholesale ecological collapse and more of the same human activities which have killed most of the life on Earth.

Widespread awareness of this reality is now inevitable thanks to climate strikes and other mass movements. They are succeeding in their objectives because of several factors:

  • The climate strikes are so massive now that the popular media can't ignore the scale or message.
  • Demonstrators regularly confront elected officials at their offices or in public. It is increasingly impossible for politicians to deny the political will of voters on this issue.
  • Protests of this scale attract important people and celebrities, many of whom have been more than willing to lend their voices to the cause.
  • Civil disobedience, like walking out of school or work, is harmless. It is the most dignified form that public protest can take and should be encouraged.
  • The protest medium only amplifies the power of the message. There is no future without action on climate change. Strikes demonstrate that young people are willing to give up the trappings of comfort and normalcy to ensure a worthwhile future.

School-age climate protestors aren’t skipping classes because they don’t care about their future. It's because the future is one of the only things worth caring about.

What About the Greta Thunberg Effect?

There is no denying what some are calling the Greta Thunberg effect. Some men are very willing to debase themselves to discredit her and her message.

The only trouble with Thunberg is that she is such an easy target. It is easy to paint the figurehead as an isolated or tragically mistaken individual, as the Far Right is doing. Thankfully, she is utterly unflappable even in the face of astounding ignorance and cruelty from her peers and elders. While she is a luminary in what sometimes feels like a dark age, she’s only one figure.

Her real story is the movement she’s inspired and the young people she’s awakened. Maybe bringing about real change will always require a Greta Thunberg. The climate change strikes she helped turn into record-setting global firsts are working because mass movements are the only thing that can succeed against odds this long.

The political will of average people isn’t measured in dollars. On an issue like this, in which there are trillions of dollars at stake, it takes millions of people marching in the streets to counteract the influence of just a handful of well-moneyed individuals.

Ultimately, the climate strikes will be remembered as a positive turning point. They have helped inspire, reinvigorate and politically motivate an apathetic electorate and middle-class throughout the world. They’ve proven that good ideas can spread just as well as bad ones. They've made the political process and activism more accessible to a new generation of young people. Thanks to movements like this one, we will emerge more united, more hopeful and better in touch with each other, the planet and our political futures.