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Students strike to spur adults into climate action

Kids across the globe are protesting a failure of governments to cut greenhouse-gas emissions

Thousands of students protested in support of climate change action in London, England, on February 15. A global strike is planned for March 15.

For the past several months, growing numbers of students around the world have been cutting class — not to play but to protest. The topic driving them is the same: Earth’s changing climate. Increasing wildfires and droughts, rising seas and more extreme weather are among the events being tied to elevated emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide. As students see it, governments have not done enough to cut those emissions or to plan ways to adapt to the impacts of climate change. So students have been going on strike. And on March 15, many plan to participate in a coordinated strike that will take place across the globe. As of March 6, there were 596 planned events across 64 countries, according to a list kept by the group Fridays For Future.

Milou Albrecht, 14, of Castlemaine, Australia, is a co-leader of strikes in her country. What motivates her, she says, is worry about wildfires. When she was little, a fire quickly approached the bush country where she was playing at a friend’s house. Smoke quickly filled the air, she recalls. Everyone had to evacuate. “You didn’t know what to take, so we didn’t take anything.” She remembers feeling terror while waiting in an underground bunker for the fire to pass. The scare spurred her to find out more about bushfires. To her dismay, she learned that climate change is making such wildfires more frequent in Australia and elsewhere. Wildfires aren’t the only thing that will worsen as global temperatures rise. There are a wide range of changes that will cause — and sometimes are already causing — people and animals to suffer. Many people could even lose their homes. Some may have to move far away.

Human activities have caused a warming of 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) above temps typical of pre-industrial times. That’s according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC. Human-induced global warming already has caused multiple changes in Earth’s climate, the IPCC noted in a 2018 report. Those impacts include more heat waves, more and heavier rains or snow events and a greater risk of drought. These changes are already stressing people, animals and ecosystems across the planet. At the current rate, the increase in average global temperatures will hit 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) sometime between 2030 and 2052, the IPCC says. Beyond that point, impacts will be even more severe. And the longer people wait to cut back releases of greenhouse gases, the more difficult it may be. This is true for the U.S. auto and energy companies, for instance. And the longer they wait, the higher the costs for any action will be. That’s according to a 2017 study in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. Such data, many students now argue, mean the time to act is now.

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