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Hundreds turned up to demand the government declares a climate emergency.

Photos: Sarah Becker

Bristol pupils have gone on strike to protest against political inaction on climate change.

Today has seen the first nationwide pupil-led strike, with Bristol pupils joining more than 40 towns and cities in the UK on walkouts from schools, colleges and universities.

This “Youth Strike 4 Climate” has been organised by a coalition of young climate change activists and organisations such as the UK Student Climate Network. Strikers are calling on government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to ensure younger generations can look forward to their future.

The movement was inspired by the actions of Greta Thunberg, 15 at the time, who protested by herself outside the Swedish Parliament last year. Since then, the strikes have taken on a global dimension, with tens of thousands of young people joining demonstrations across the world. Last year’s special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) highlighted that humans have a narrow window of 12 years to limit the extent of climate catastrophe.

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Zoe Bonnett, 14, the main organiser of Bristol’s protest, was hoping to see approximately 200 young people gather in front of City Hall on College Green from 11am today. Instead she was overwhelmed with the turn-out, which she estimated was around 500 in Bristol.

Motivated by Thunberg’s protest last year, Zoe began organising for this strike in January by creating a Facebook event and reaching out to Bristol organisations that might help spread the word.

“I wake up every day and think about what my future might hold”

“Growing up knowing about it [climate change], I can’t really not do anything about it, it’s really difficult. And I wake up every day and think about what my future might hold. It gets me out of bed to do something about it and that’s what this strike has really helped me to achieve, she told the Cable, adding that she wants the government to; “pull their head out of the sand and really think about climate change – because climate change can’t wait… And the government need to take responsibility”.

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One of the ways she says the government needs to take responsibility is by declaring a climate emergency, one of the official demands stated by the UK Student Climate Network. They also want the government to reform the national curriculum to prioritise the ecological crisis and to incorporate young people’s views into policy, and to bring the voting age down to 16. The group argues that climate change is not just an issue for young people and future generations, but that inaction on climate change is already affecting people, especially in the Global South.

Another participant, Bethany, 18, explained that she and other young people are taking strike action to make their voices heard; “You can see the demographic here is young people, the majority, because we don’t feel like we have much of a voice, and right now we are coming together and showing that we do care about our future, and maybe the past generations have messed it up for us quite a lot and we want to make a change.”

In a letter to the Mayor, Green councillor Eleanor Combley drew on the climate emergency declared in Bristol to ask the Mayor to publicly voice support for the strike and for the council to carefully consider pupils’ absences as a result of the strike. The organisers of the strike also shared their demands with Bristol’s newly elected Youth Mayors.

The Cable spoke to several protesters, who said that although their school supported the strike, their absence would still have to be classed as ‘unauthorised’. In contrast, organisers and parents argue that the climate crisis poses ‘exceptional circumstances’ which permit missing school.

As the movement gathers momentum a global strike is being planned for next month on 15 March.

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