Some called it a phenomenon, some a sham, some a revolution. The fact is that, since 16-year-old Swede Greta Thunberg started skipping school to protest in front of the Parliament in Stockholm in August 2018, in defence of the environment and against governments that “don’t do enough to combat the climate crisis”, her example has inspired millions of young people around the world, who in turn have decided to take to the streets. The large colorful (but mostly green) events, culminating in three large "Global Strikes" over time have been structured into a real movement, which are now called Fridays for Future (FFF), involving young people from New York to Singapore, from Paris to Cape Town.
«Governments, listen to scientists, because there is no more time». «You are stealing the future from us». «The next generation will pay for the mistakes you have made, it is the duty of adults to act now,” the children shout, waving placards depicting the suffering planet Earth, burning forests and an almost exhausted hourglass. The latest Global Climate Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) clearly underlines how the planet’s temperature is rising at a dizzying pace, due to the increasing levels of CO2 placed in the global ecosystem by human activities. Just a decade is left to prevent the temperature from rising again by 1.5 degrees Celsius, after which the impact of climate change will be irreversible. If we do not act now for a full transition towards renewable energy and circular economy, in short, we are destined for a world of drought, extreme weather phenomena, environmental devastation and increasingly intense migrations, the kids warn us. The system needs to therefore be radically reformed, putting environmental policies at the top of any political and business decision. At stake is the very survival of mankind.
«The current idea of development is putting us in a hurt locker», Gabriele, a young Italian design student from the Calabria region, studying at the Milan Polytechnic and a member of FFF since March this year, says. «The problem is that no one has so far been brave enough to adopt policies that really change the rules of the game». The issue concerns everyone, but especially adults: «We young people are protesting, but we are also the ones who least of all can have an impact. It is the generations before ours who have the tools to change things», says the young activist.
It is no coincidence that for some time now, the movement has begun to involve also the “grown-ups”, in groups open to parents and grandparents called “Parents for Future”. «I have been an environmentalist since the 1990s, inspired by my father who was very sensitive to these issues», Elena, a 40-year-old mother who has been taking to the streets every Friday alongside her children, explains. «My children are studying in London and are very busy, I am here to protest for them too. In general, I would like to see more participation from adults, because this is everyone’s problem». Giorgio, a “young” 63 year-old grandfather from Paderno Dugnano, a town near Milan, in Northern Italy, also decided to join the protests: «I followed the information on the media and social networks, but I had never became active myself. I started taking part in the protests on 15 March», he says. He too has also stood up for his one-and-a-half-year-old grandson’s defense. His intent is to try to create a better future for him. «In the photos on Facebook you can see me clearly, I am the one with the sign that says "For Enea"».
Science has been talking about the emergency for a long time, but I don’t think anyone has ever really fought for it. How else is it that we have reached this point?
Given the numbers of rallies and the great media clamor generated by Greta Thunberg, in recent months the political world has not been able to remain indifferent. World personalities such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK have also floated the idea of a genuine Green New Deal, a program that aims to undermine the underlying economic system, combining environmental protection with active social and work policies, to promote sustainable growth by breaking down inequalities and creating a fully circular economy. Greta herself was invited to speak at the European Parliament and recently also at the United Nations, receiving standing ovations and long applause for her speeches. There is still, however, a lot of anger: the applause does not change the substance, and that is that governments are not making real efforts to change things. In the video that portrays her at the UN, tears of anger are pouring from the young woman’s eyes: anger at the hypocrisy behind the actions of world decision-makers, the too many calls for action that do not turn into concrete policies. «It should not be all on the shoulders of the children, we need to move to renewable energy, promote electric mobility, zero emissions by 2030 or at most 2040», Elena says.
Giorgio, who, in addition to being an activist, is also a painter, talks about the painting that he made now 25 years ago: today people call it a “prophetic” canvas – the desert, a tornado, the oil platforms in the background. It was at the time of the hole in the ozone, now reduced to almost zero. The consequences, however, have remained the same. «Science has been talking about the emergency for a long time, but I don’t think anyone has ever really fought for it. Otherwise how can we have got to this point? We didn’t need the IPCC report to tell us out how serious the problem was». Today, Fridays for Future is unprecedented in this sense, a movement that has really begun to change the world’s rhetoric when it comes to development. «I think it is an incredible social innovation, a breath of fresh air and the movement that has shaken consciences most of all. I hope it is the beginning of a real green revolution», Elena says.
By bringing the environment to the center of public discourse, the movement has created a new awareness among people. But there are still many difficulties to face, not only because of so-called “deniers” of climate change, but also for the spreading, on social networks, of hoaxes and misinformation. The very credibility of the movement and its leader have been questioned, with accusations ranging from «Greta is only a little girl, send her back to school» to «she’s just an actress», to conspiracy theories like «behind her hide the powers that be».
But what is the problem? Actions of this kind have led to controversial attitudes even on the part of heads of state: first of all, US President Donald Trump, who walked away from the 2015 Paris Agreement, during which a worldwide commitment by countries to the fight against climate change was expected. Without the United States, the richest (and also one of the most polluting) countries in the world, the efforts of other countries now lie at risk of not being enough to reverse the order of things.
If we want to change things, we must all commit. It is essential that we stop talking and thinking like consumers
«Even in a city like Milan, Italy, which declared a climate emergency, the only unbuilt area in Baiamonti square, where we had symbolically planted a tree, was declared buildable by the municipality», Giorgio says. «And how many million tons of CO2 will be needed to tear down and rebuild the San Siro stadium? It makes little sense to give reusable bottles to students if you then chase after the money». It is in this sense, the grandfather explains, that adults should support young people in their struggle, helping them to expose those bad practices that lurk behind apparent statements of support. «Dialogue with the governments is fundamental», the young Gabriele says.
«One of the greatest strengths, but also a big limitation of the movement, is that it is incredibly inclusive but for this same reason it is not framed in legal terms, which makes it difficult to raise funds to increase its extension», Elena explains. But, since the problem is for everyone, it is necessary for everyone to awaken their conscience and to work. «I always travel by train, I eat less meat and at home I bought a filter jug, to reduce my consumption of plastic», Gabriele says. Change, after all, starts with small daily gestures. And if everyone – really everyone – were to start with these good individual practices, it is not utopian to think that the cultural change that is needed could quickly lead to the actions that are still expected of governments. «I am genuinely concerned about the future of the world», Elena concludes. «That’s why, if we want to change things, we all have to work hard. It is essential that we stop talking and thinking like consumers».