Illustration by Hannah Robinson
Collins Dictionary recently announced that ‘Climate Strike’ was their word of the year for 2019. Ignoring Piers Morgan’s helpful interjection that this is in fact two words, ‘Climate Strike’ receiving the title is fitting for a year of unprecedented action across the world as we look to tackle climate change.
In light of this, I have had the time to look back on the Edinburgh episode of the global strike for climate, which took place on 20 September.
Given the unanimous scientific evidence, attempting to raise world awareness of global warming and climate change is in itself a very good idea. Sadly, what we saw in Edinburgh and across the world on 20 September was a lot more than this. I, like many others, found myself questioning whether or not this really was a strike for the climate.
Homemade banners and placards bore innumerable messages predominantly focussed around the need for action against climate change. Yet there were more than a handful of people who, if I were to put on my sceptical spectacles, were bearing messages wanting far more.
‘Legalise it [cannabis]’, was one of my favourites. Others included ‘Burn billionaires not fossil fuels’ and ‘Fridays for striking’.
What we saw in September were people asking for the legalisation of a Class B drug; the killing of the richest people in our world; and a four-day working week.
Of course, this was not everyone, however the gathering of these people under the guise of a ‘climate strike’ detracted immensely from the power and message of the movement. Such messages give the authorities and the media the easiest of excuses to brush off these protesters as a bunch of deluded anarchists who do not know what they actually want. The poignant messages of the many are lost in the absurdities of the few.
A large proportion were asking for ‘System change not climate change’. As my confusion grew, I began to speak to some of the strikers. One person I spoke to said: ‘we need to fundamentally change our socio-economic system to save the planet’. How can we do this, I then asked. ‘Get rid of capitalism’, was his response.
The strong presence of the Scottish Socialist Party and placards produced by Socialist Worker added a needless political dynamic to the strikes. Why politicise – and these are no liberal views at that – a movement that should be relevant and important to those of all political backgrounds?
All this achieves is reducing the plausibility of the
message of the protest, much like the protester standing next me did as she
sipped from her single-use, non-recyclable Starbucks coffee cup.
The same can be said of the various Brexit protests that have taken place across the country, though mainly in London, in the past few months. There gathered people who wanted to revoke Article 50 and cancel Brexit completely; some who wanted Boris Johnson to resign; others who wanted a so-called ‘People’s Vote’, and a further split within this group as to what exactly should be on the ballot paper.
The trend was no different at the recent Scottish Independence march in Edinburgh. Self-professed anarchists were present, looking to oust capitalism and re-instate the Gaelic language. Yes, all of these people did not want Scotland to be part of the union, however that simple message was to an extent scuppered by people wanting a lot more.
People at protests and strikes tend to be more unified by what they do not want, than what they in fact want.
On 20 September, people knew they did not want climate change. What they wanted was as difficult to decipher as the trickiest of equations: the removal of capitalism; the legalisation of cannabis; the burning of Donald Trump…
Perhaps I am being naïve in suggesting that thousands of people who otherwise do not know each other can unify under one cause, knowing exactly what they want and what they do not want.
In defending myself I hark back to my romanticised memories of a protest that fit perfectly into this ideal. Aged seven, in January 2008, we at my primary school and hundreds of other Shropshire school pupils protested outside the County Council in a bid to save our schools from being closed down. ‘Save our Schools (SOS)’, was a simple enough message which we were all unified under. We got what we wanted, and my primary school, Hope School, would remain open for a further nine years, before eventually pupil numbers determined it had to go.
Ultimately, we are seeing a raised awareness about climate change. Could this awareness be even higher if the strikes were as perfect as that which took place in Shropshire almost a dozen years ago? Yes. Unfortunately, too many of us see events like these as opportunities to raise whatever concern about society you have.