19 November 2019

We all know the iconic image of Greta Thunberg on her solitary Climate Strike in 2018, standing outside the Swedish Parliament building with a sign reading “Skolstrejk för Klimatet”: school strike for the climate. As Thunberg’s activism takes modern society by storm, the Climate Strike grows with her.

What has struck me most about the Global Climate Strikes, is the way that they are exposing some of the complexities of the climate breakdown. For example, people are no longer shying away from linking capitalism and climate damage, rather than simply focusing on the science, nor from highlighting some of the structural oppressions in society that make climate-related incidences more damaging for some communities more than others.

It is important to draw attention to these stories and the variety of reactions to the climate crisis, not least because it links every single person and community on the planet, but also because we need to recognise that climate change is also inherently becoming a societal and structural problem. It reveals who is willing to listen and break down some of the arbitrary, man-made barriers that leave some people more vulnerable than others. It unveils which communities need the most help.

Here are some of the little-known versions of the Global Climate Strikes, telling the stories of various communities’ reactions to this global, all-encompassing problem:

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Several companies and businesses shut their doors for the day to both allow their employees to protest, and show their solidarity for the growing climate movement. The participants were probably predictable: ice-cream brand Ben & Jerry’s, media company VICE and sustainable outdoor clothing brand Patagonia ceased their operations for the day.

On the other end of the scale were Amazon employees protesting against their own employer. The walk-out saw more than 900 employees demand that Amazon recognise its role in the climate crisis through the encouragement of consumer culture. They want Amazon to commit to zero emissions by 2030, with no services provided to fossil fuel companies, and to stop committing political donations to climate-denying individuals and institutions. Once Amazon employees made this announcement, employees of other Silicon Valley tech firms also followed suit in walking-out.

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One of the biggest countries in the world saw one of the smallest turnouts for the Climate Strike. Due to restrictive protest laws - effectively, protest bans - strikers in Moscow, Russia had to spread themselves widely and thinly in order to avoid appearing like they were part of an organised protest and thus avoid arrest. One has to apply for a permit to protest in Russia, and evidently the chances that authorities can deny your request are fairly high when they are the very body you are questioning.

In a community like Russia, where issues such as high prices and rampant poverty are a lot more tangible, it is often difficult to dedicate time to an issue such as climate change, as Sarah Rainsford of the BBC points out. Dealing with problems that have to be solved immediately leads to time-poverty, and by extension, an inability to think about something that is relatively medium-to-long-term.

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Finally, in Auckland, New Zealand, protestors walked through the city, stopping at the point at which the city is predicted to be underwater by 2160, by Quay Street. There, they formed a human chain, blocking the road and traffic. Research has already identified that the Pacific Islands, which lie near the coasts of New Zealand, are under imminent threat from climate change. This was one of the reasons that the New Zealand government proposed the later-scrapped climate refugee visa scheme.

However, New Zealand’s coasts themselves are under threat, with indigenous and Maori communities largely in the firing line. Matauranga is an ancient Polynesian science, developed from years of relationships to the land, sea and climate, that Western climate scientists may increasingly look to for solutions that include these vulnerable communities.

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These strikes are the very beginning of a grueling fight. Each of the stories show how each community is battling specific blockers that all form part of one humongous problem. I have extreme amounts of optimism that these strikes will remove those blockers and make it very difficult for climate deniers to even exist. But there is yet a long road ahead to get us there.