Students strike for climate justice in capitals worldwide
Hundreds of university students in London missed classes yesterday to protest climate injustices. We spoke to university students on the front line of the climate crisis in capital cities around the globe.
New Delhi: Development or Environment
Anushka, a Law student at the University of Delhi, studies in the world’s most polluted capital city. Earlier this month, the local authorities in New Delhi declared an emergency, with “severe-plus” levels of air pollution and thick smog closing schools, diverting flights, and halting construction work for a week. But Anushka does not believe that declaring a week-long public health emergency will provide a long-term solution to the serious environmental problems which the Indian capital faces.
“I think what’s so striking for me is that, despite so much being said about how we’re in a climate crisis, our government fails to even acknowledge the situation, let alone do any damage control or take affirmative action,” Anushka told London Student.
Anushka hopes that the Climate Strike in New Delhi will hold the Indian government account for its “inaction” over environmental issues. “Non-cooperation” between India and its neighbouring countries means that air pollution still travels freely across India’s borders, she says. Anushka also points to a Guardian report which lists a state-owned company, Coal India, as one of 20 companies responsible for 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
“I think our politicians are still stuck on the whole ‘development vs. environment’ debate, which at this point makes absolutely no sense considering we’re all going down, regardless of whether we’re in a developed or developing country,” she concluded.
Dakar: Africa is injured most
Yero is the 18-year-old founder of Senegal’s Fridays For Future movement. He’s leading the protest in Dakar with a campaign focused “on respect for environmental standards in industries in our country and elsewhere.” Demonstrators will also call on world leaders to respect the targets made during the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, which set out an international goal to limit the Earth’s increase in temperature to just 1.5°C.
London Student asked Yero whether Senegal’s future is at risk.
“Not just Senegal,” he explained. “All of Africa [is at risk] because Africa is harmed most in this climate crisis. It pollutes the least but suffers the most from the devastating effects of global warming. [The only people responsible for this] are the powerful Westerners who have the highest rates of greenhouse gas emissions.”
Quito: Defend Pachamama
In Ecuador, Agustin has just graduated from Universidad de las Americas, and he now co-coordinates Fridays for Future events across South America. Yesterday, he led a major demonstration in Quito with a focus on climate crisis education for his fellow students and graduates.
“It’s important that students join us because we have our future. Older people already enjoy the planet, so some of them don’t really feel afraid of what’s coming, or they just don’t want to see reality as it is,” he lamented. “On the other hand, you have students who should be worried. But the reality is that some of them are not afraid. We [at Friday’s For Future, Ecuador] have come to the conclusion that our culture is not as prepared to defend Pachamama [Mother Earth] as we thought it was.”
Agustin says that Climate Change is taking a visible toll on Quito: “Years ago, you had a ‘regular’ kind of weather. Now it’s unpredictable. Across Ecuador, especially in the Andean mountains, we are watching the snow disappearing. When I was younger, Cotopaxi Mountain was covered in snow, but half of it is gone.”
The Andean mountains supply the capital with water, Agustin says, so the memory of snow-covered mountains is not just a nostalgic haze. For many students in Quito, making sure there’s regular snowfall could be the bottom line of the city’s survival.
With Quito on the edge, what does Agustin hope his movement will achieve?
“The Latin American youth is worried about how the Global South is treated by world leaders. We don’t feel like it’s fair to be seen as a collateral consequence of the international climate deals. Our land produces a lot of oxygen and food resources that the world consumes. We are tired of [being seen like] that, because we are a part of humanity too,” he explained. Fridays for Future in Quito is not just a protest to its government in a plea to ‘do more’. It’s a cry for Ecuadorian agency worldwide, too.
Yerevan: It will work, somehow
Diana has finished studying at the Université Français en Arménie (French University in Armenia) in Yerevan. She now works with NGOs to raise awareness of climate issues in workshops and at demonstrations.
“We don’t speak much about environmental issues at our universities,” she explained. Only recently, the French University started to recycle its plastic, which follows a trend now known as the “Attenborough Effect”, or the global War on Plastic.
Yerevan’s local authorities are following in the French University’s footsteps in a move which Diana praised. Just the presence of recycling bins in the city will encourage a sense of environmental awareness, she believes.
“We hope that this initiative will work, somehow,” Diana said.
Just as I began my interview with her, Clara, a first-year student at the Australian National University, had to leave her house whilst the local fire brigade brought a bushfire under control.
“In Canberra,” Clara explained, “we are surrounded by Bushland … so many of us are anxious about incoming fires. My own house was burnt in the famous Canberra Bushfire in 2003, and everyone is starting to see the connections between Climate Change [with drier seasons] and increased catastrophic fires.”
Again, it’s towards the government that the protest is aimed: “The Australian government is utterly appalling in their stance for climate change. Just this year, the Scott Morrison government has fought for new coal mines such as the Adani Mine, new gas fracking, and even considering drilling for oil in the Great Barrier Reef. Here in the Canberra Territory the local government has declared a Climate Emergency and is en route to deliver 100% renewable energy, but we are the smallest state, and we’re all so disappointed that [national] wealth is being prioritised over a liveable future for all.”