While Greta Thunberg has inspired youths in many countries to participate in the Fridays For Future strikes to demand greater climate action and urge their leaders to clean up the environment for the next generation, Malaysian youths have not followed suit
KUALA LUMPUR – On Friday, 19 May, the temperature in Stockholm, Sweden, was a chilly 11 degrees Celsius, but that did not deter Swedish environmentalist and global icon of youth activism against climate change, Greta Thunberg, from making a stand.
A group of 30 young people were gathered in front of the Swedish Parliament near Gamla Stan in the city’s old quarter. They were chanting slogans and holding banners proclaiming (in Swedish) ‘School Strikes for Climate,’ ‘Forests Are Not Renewable,’ and ‘Restore Nature’.
Suddenly, one of them shouted, “What do we want? Climate justice! When do we want it? Now!” Of course, that voice belonged to Greta, who was obviously in top form at week 248 of the ‘Fridays For Future’ school strikes – a movement she initiated five years ago to protest against the climate crisis and urge leaders to take action.
Seeing Greta Thunberg In Action
In Stockholm to attend a workshop from May 15 to 18 on ‘Green Recovery and Just Transition’ organised by the United Kingdom-based Internews Earth Journalism Network and Swedish Postcode Foundation, this writer and four other journalists from Indonesia, Argentina, Bulgaria and Italy had the opportunity to witness the weekly climate strike and watch 20-year-old Thunberg herself in action.
The climate campaigner was only 15 when she started staging the Fridays For Future strikes in 2018 outside the Swedish Parliament building. It soon became a global movement with thousands of students in 7,500 cities in 63 countries skipping school for a few hours on Fridays to protest against climate change.
The five foreign journalists, including this writer, present at the week 248 strike were eager to interview Thunberg – who in 2019 became the youngest person to be named Person of the Year by Time Magazine (she was even nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize once) – but when they approached her and introduced themselves, she appeared uncomfortable.
Vocal But Shy
“Please, no more pictures again!” she said, avoiding the cameras. Clad in a simple pink T-shirt and black shorts, she moved away from the reporters and joined her fellow campaigners.
The journalists, however, did not go back empty-handed. A young woman, who introduced herself as Thunberg’s fellow activist Isabelle Axelsson, agreed to be interviewed.
Relating how the Fridays For Future movement came about, she said when it first started, Thunberg sat alone outside the Swedish Parliament every schoolday for three weeks, demanding urgent action on the global warming crisis.
“We then joined her in the strike and created the hashtag #FridaysForFuture and encouraged other young people to strike in their own countries.
“During the lockdown (due to the COVID-19 pandemic), we held our strikes online. As for me, I only skip the protest if I have to, like when I’m sick but I always make an effort to attend,” Axelsson said.
In Stockholm, the demonstrations are held every Friday morning even in snowy conditions.
“There was one time when the temperature dropped to minus 12 degrees Celsius. But we still carried on with our protest,” the 21-year-old Stockholm University student added with a laugh.
For someone who is vocal on climate issues and accustomed to speaking in front of crowds and chiding world leaders on the international stage for not doing enough to address climate change, Thunberg seemed shy but it did not come as a surprise as she has Asperger’s syndrome.
People diagnosed with this condition often have trouble with social interactions. In fact, in her Twitter bio, Thunberg describes herself as an “autistic climate justice activist”.
Thunberg’s Last School Strike
Thunberg, who in her book titled ‘The Climate Book’ declared she has adopted a vegan lifestyle and avoids taking flights that run on fossil fuels and buying new clothes as her contribution to the environment, announced on Twitter on Friday, 9 June that the Fridays For Future event that day (strike week 251) would be her last school strike as she was graduating from high school.
Vowing to carry on speaking out on climate issues, she tweeted, “Today, I graduate from school, which means I’ll no longer be able to (participate in the) school strike for climate. This is then the last school strike for me.
“We are still here, and we aren’t planning on going anywhere. Much has changed since we started, and yet we have much further to go.”
In every global agenda where she appears as a speaker, Thunberg always delivers scathing criticism against politicians and industry players who, she alleged, were neglecting the earth’s well-being in favour of financial gain.
On June 15, a week after attending her last school strike, Thunberg spoke at the United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany, and warned that the failure to end the use of fossil fuels will be a “death sentence” for millions worldwide.
She and other activists have reiterated their commitment to fight against the use of fossil fuels which play a significant role in contributing to global warming and climate change.
She also urged policymakers to implement more ambitious action plans to meet the goals outlined in the 2015 Paris Agreement signed by world leaders attending the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21).
The goals include substantially reducing global greenhouse gas emissions to limit the global temperature increase in this century to two degrees Celsius while pursuing efforts to limit the increase even further to 1.5 degrees.
Where Is The Role Model For Malaysian Youths
While Thunberg has inspired youths in many countries to participate in the Fridays For Future strikes to demand greater climate action and urge their leaders to clean up the environment for the next generation, Malaysian youths have not followed suit.
Malaysia has its share of young activists but do they have the potential to change the world by raising awareness among the public about the urgency of climate change?
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Malaysia Youth Climate Champions consultant Mogesh Sababathy said children and youth can play a vital role in addressing climate change by offering critical perspectives and driving constructive action.
“However, in Malaysia, there are barriers to youths’ participation in climate action… we seldom see youths being given a voice and representative role in sharing their perspective of what they have to say in addressing climate change issues.
“Youth and young people are genuinely contributing the least to climate change, but we are also the group of people who are the most affected,” he told a recent seminar on Sustainability Leadership 2023, which was held in Putrajaya and organised by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia-Yayasan Sime Darby Chair for Sustainability.
He said a recent report by UNICEF and the United Nations Development Programme revealed that 92 percent of young Malaysians view climate change as a crisis, highlighting their awareness of the challenges.
“However, acknowledging the problem is not enough; action is needed. It is crucial for our leaders to take bold steps in addressing climate change and implementing policies and programmes to reduce our carbon footprint, protect the environment and promote sustainable development.
“We must ensure that marginalised communities including children are not left behind,” he said.
Mogesh, who has been representing Malaysia at climate change conferences and youth assemblies since 2015, said although Malaysia only accounted for less than 0.7 percent of global carbon emissions, but, like other nations, it still has to play its part to address the urgency of climate change globally.
“A little action can actually make a huge difference. As a youth climate activist, what I do in a personal capacity is to let people understand that action comes in many ways.
“You don’t have to own an organisation, go out there and organise protests or demonstrations but you can start from home. You can start by just talking to your friends and family, that’s what I do,” he said.
As mentioned by Thunberg in her other book titled ‘No One is Too Small to Make a Difference’, Mogesh said every youth has the ability to start with even “a small little step” to give their perspective on climate change or practice climate actions in their daily life.
“They can actively engage in environmental initiatives, volunteer, participate in clean-ups, raise awareness about our planet’s well-being and support businesses that prioritise sustainability and environmental responsibility.
“In fact, they can reduce plastic waste and carry reusable bags, water bottles and straws, and choose minimally packaged products, conveying the demand for sustainability,” he said.
He added by engaging in sustainability initiatives, raising awareness and advocating for stronger environmental policies, young individuals can influence their communities and push governments and corporations to prioritise climate action.
“They can demand systemic change and help forge a sustainable future for generations to come. There are numerous ways in which each of us can play a role in the fight against climate change,” he said.
He also called on the government to create a strategic mechanism that enables the community’s involvement in a more inclusive manner, especially in giving youths a voice to express their views on various topics including climate change.
“It can’t be any clearer that young people are at the forefront of the (climate) issue. The position of young people must be recognised as important stakeholders to contribute to climate governance. The future is in the hands of young people and we cannot deny that,” he added. – Bernama (By Soon Li Wei)