School climate strikes: Why I’m taking part

'Schools don't teach us the human cost of climate breakdown.'

I keep being asked: “Why aren’t you in school? Don’t you care about your education?”

But actually students and education are incredibly at odds with each other; the system is alienating us by not teaching the reality of climate crisis.

Bees are dying because we are cutting down flowers. We are bleaching the oceans, burning the trees and sending a tenth of UK species into threat of extinction. Total death, forever. Skylarks, turtle doves, curlews. Forget the lapwings, the only thing flying in our future will be planes.

The Government want to build a third runway at Heathrow, but the UK is already home to more children suffering from respiratory conditions than anywhere else in Europe. Is it starting to become clear why we are concerned?

Beyond the natural world collapsing before our eyes, climate change poses an intense risk to human life. And such a risk is not, as many adults would suggest, decades into the future, but is happening today. Where Britain’s children are suffering from asthma, those living in Ethiopia are already enduring starvation threats as extreme storms threaten food production.

Children across the world have delicate immune systems which put them more at risk for developing the kind of waterborne diseases that thrive in hot weather and floods. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey hit the USA, 27 trillion gallons of rain fell onto Texas and Houston sank by 2cm. That may not seem like a huge amount, but if there’s anything I’ve learnt from a childhood of ecological collapse, it’s that small changes have huge consequences.

Harvey was the second most costly hurricane to hit the US since 1900. Did you know that?

These facts are not mentioned in the textbooks. When they talk of climate change in schools, it is with diagrams and arrows, all about the gases and hot air. Never mentioned are the migrants, the unemployed, the starving. When schools document an event caused, well, pretty much entirely by humans, we are the only ones left out of the narrative.

We are striking because we want to change this narrative. Schools can no longer present to us a story of climate change that ignores the central plot line: extinction, inequality, and total collapse. We are striking because we need them to feel the absence we feel every day. Do a few students missing from a class make up for the animals we will never see? Or the lands which will melt before we visit them?

Without a vote for sixteen year olds, our generation – like the Earth we are trying to protect – has been silenced. All we are left with is the inescapable noise that is climate destruction.

Yes, destruction – that’s also a word never used in textbooks as they coax us with climate change as if the potential extinction of our species was just another photosynthesis, some natural phenomena we shouldn’t pay much attention to. Recycle, turn off the lights, that’ll be enough.

Why are we striking? Because that won’t be enough.

Reforming the way we approach the environment starts but does not end with zero carbon emissions, it requires an education system in which the people in power pay attention to the ecological principles we have abandoned in order to pursue commercial gains. In which teachers, textbooks, and tests alike recognize the living effects of environmental collapse and the most effective solutions to mitigate it. In which students are permitted to study outside – provided of course air pollution levels are low enough to make it safe enough to do so.

Why are we striking? Active citizenship. Our education does not end with a school strike, but will be improved by it.

Sophie Sleeman is a 17-year-old school student from Devon.

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