The future changed for us all one Friday morning, when a girl decided to sit in front of the parliament building in her country and strike for climate change. That gesture has now become an international movement against global warming.
On a Friday like many others, together with some LifeGate colleagues, I went to meet these youngsters and students who choose not to go to school in order to ask that something is done, anything, to combat global warming and climate change. Having reached the town hall in Piazza della Scala in Milan just a few minutes after 12pm, I saw people arriving in dribs and drabs. Not all youngsters, and many not even from Milan. And yet they all seized the chance to try to revive that green spirit that has all but disappeared from Italian political agendas. In the end, there were about eighty youngsters and activists for climate change who congregated in front of Palazzo Marino, adding to the tens of thousands who, like them, met in other squares, in other towns, in other countries.
Whoever could have guessed that the person responsible for all this would be a Swedish teenager who, on 20 August last year - a Friday - took it upon herself to sit outside parliament, alone, and hand out flyers with a long list of facts about climate change and an explanation of her reasons for missing school. “I explained what I was doing in posts on Instagram and Twitter and these soon went viral. And so journalists and reporters started to arrive”. Just a few months on and that girl, who goes by the name of Greta Thunberg, has taken on a key role in global activism for climate change. And she has managed to ensure that children and adults alike come together in cities all over the world to keep the focus on climate change, giving rise to a movement – though that’s not what it is – known as #fridaysforfuture.
In the meantime, Greta has held a TED talk in Stockholm. She went to the World Economic Forum in Davos, attracting attention and thus taking it away from government and business leaders. She has visited the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, one of the most active cities during #fridaysforfuture. She has demonstrated along with Parisian students. All places that she reached by train, taking days to complete journeys that would have taken minutes if she’d travelled by one of the least environmentally friendly transport methods: the plane.
And yet Thunberg was attacked for this, some saying that she was being “manipulated”, “used” or even “paid” to do what she was doing. In a post on Facebook she tried to emphasise once again that “no one controls me, I control myself”.
She is driven by the knowledge that she has a dark future ahead. After all, time is our enemy. Even more so for the under 18s who will be in the prime of life in 2030. Years that could be marked by extreme meteorological events, verging on natural catastrophe. Phenomena like those we’ve seen in autumn in Italy or those that occur during Australian summers and that could become the norm.
So let’s stop thinking that “they are children”, as if this means they are undeserving of our attention because we are unable to even listen to eminent scientists and we don't trust in scientific evidence. On the contrary, let’s get involved and help these youngsters to achieve their goal, because it is everyone’s goal.
“If everyone listened to scientists and the facts I’m continually referring to – wrote Thunberg on her Facebook page – no one would need to listen to me or the hundreds of thousands of students striking for climate change around the world. And then we could go back to school”.
The goal to achieve is clear: we need to halve CO2 emissions in order to limit the increase in average global temperature to within one and a half degrees. And we need to do it now. For this reason, a general or rather universal strike for climate change has been announced for 15 March. Perhaps the biggest strike ever to have been organised as a way of putting pressure on outdated lobbies. I’ll be there and so will Greta, as students come together in Milan and dozens of other Italian cities. In the hope that after that day, we can each go back to doing what we should be doing.