Pupils on strike

Hundreds of thousands of people across the world are taking part in actions called by the School Climate Strikers ahead of the climate summit in New York next week. It may become the biggest ever climate protest.

School students will be joined by hundreds of thousands of workers and students from higher education. All the UK’s trade unions are encouraging members to take part. More than 800 events are planned in the United States. Google Workers for Climate Action are organising walk outs at various sites. Over a thousand workers from Amazon’s HQ in Seattle are walking off the job for the first time in the company’s 25-year history. They are taking vacation days because the company will not give them time off.

There will be actions throughout Europe, Australia, Japan, India, South Africa, Canada and more. It follows on from March’s school strike and could be even bigger.

The school strikers are offering real leadership on the climate emergency. Increasingly, they are questioning the fundamentals of the economy – continuous growth in pursuit of profit, built-in obsolescence, and a total disregard for the wellbeing of people and planet. They are helping to create the conditions for a democratic revolution. 

Writing in Scotland’s The National newspaper, school striker Emil Carr states that “the greenwashed politics of the 21stcentury will not fool us… we need a radical restructuring of society.” 

Declaring a climate emergency is a fraud if governments don’t back it with real actions: “The new form of greenwashing at a governmental level is equivalent to sweeping the dirt under the rug, claiming they are doing ‘so much’ for the environment while continuing to enable the pursuit of private profit.”

He argues that we need to entirely restructure society to create a circular economy, ending consumerism, including so-called ‘green consumerism’.

Increasingly young people are rejecting the idea that the climate emergency can be solved by individual behaviour change. They see that capitalism is the root cause of the climate crisis.

Capitalism is not only the fossil fuel and other big corporations. It is a definite set of economic relations – class relations, national and global agreements and laws supported by states.

These have developed over time and have a key organising principle – that a group of shareholders or firms, have the right to render the whole of nature into privately owned assets to exploit for profit (shareholder value). It is capitalism because it makes nature (including our human labour) into capital. 

And our states are not just flawed democracies that could maybe be reformed – they are capitalist states whose role is to support this economic form. By their inaction and prostration before the corporations they have actively facilitated ecological destruction.

School strikers are following up on the street protest by organising Citizens’ or People’s Climate Assemblies, with a view to holding governments to account. There is one in Glasgow on Sunday (details here).

These assemblies can have a dual purpose – not only organising campaigns to force governments to act, but also becoming a focus for bringing into being a new way of organising society and its rules.

Professor Will Steffen (Australia’s climate commissioner before the government shut his department down) puts it like this:

“The neoliberal economic system we’ve bought into is completely at odds with how the Earth works. We have to change this value system that we operate under. We need a social tipping point that flips our thinking, before we reach a tipping point in the climate system.

“The thing about a complex system, like our societies, is they are hard to predict because they’re highly non-linear. It’s not simple cause and effect. The state of the system – that is, the neoliberal economic system and our use of fossil fuels – seems so set, so stable, so tough, that nothing’s going to affect it. But it’s getting eroded from underneath – by the students, by legal battles, by increasing extreme weather events.”

A network of assemblies can be where we begin to actualise that change, and start to form a new society, based on solidarity, mutual support and a not for profit co-operative economy. 

At this time of constitutional crisis, citizens’ assemblies can work for a new people-sourced constitution which would enshrine the rights of nature and make ecocide a crime.

Developing citizens’ assemblies into truly independent bodies can begin a transfer of power from the corporations and their servant states to a new, humans-in-nature based social and political form of state. 

We can collaborate across boundaries and borders and say “we are the future”, not as a slogan but as a practical proposition requiring careful and serious development.

The schools climate strike, together with other anti-capitalist actions, can become the beginning of a transfer of power to the people – a real democracy. Only such a democratic revolution can unshackle us from an economic system that is destroying the potential for life on earth.