“No wonder they are angry.”
In an open letter released today (March 15), UN secretary general Antonio Guterres addressed the tens of thousands of young people who took to the streets in cities around the world to demand more action against climate change, in a movement known as Climate Strike. Guterres deplored his generation’s lack of action on these issues and argued that “these schoolchildren have grasped something that seems to elude many of their elders: we are in a race for our lives, and we are losing.”
This sense of desperate urgency was very much present earlier today in Zurich, Switzerland, where what felt like thousands of people marched along the Polyterrasse and past the city’s stately universities under the pouring rain. They carried signs pleading that “there is no planet B,” and warning that “time is running out.” But the group was enthusiastic despite the gloomy weather, buoyed in part, as one 17-year-old involved with the official movement behind the event told me, by the impressive turnout. “This is really a sign that people are really desperate for climate action because we really need it,” said Jonas Kampus. “We only have 11 years left to solve this crisis and … we need to act now.”
The procession featured members of every generation. Parents marched with their newborn babies, grandparents walked hand-in-hand with grandchildren, and students fresh off their school walkouts formed long human chains and sang, “What do we want? Climate justice! When do we want it? Now!” Nadia Segner, an environmental activist who came to the march with a group of adults and children, commented that, “there are so many young people and that’s really impressive.” Mathias Tuchschmid, who struggled to talk to me as he pushed a stroller and walked hand-in-hand with his 6-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son, told me he was here for them: “This is the future of our generation and the generation of our children, and it’s important that we give a clear sign that it has to change.”
But what “change” is that, exactly? According to Tuchschmid, it’s a “change in renewable energy, change for higher fossil fuel prices, a change for the politics.” Kampus says his group is demanding for Switzerland “to get to net zero carbon emissions by 2030.” Some marchers hand out promotional materials in favor of anti-capitalist movements, others hold signs arguing in favor of veganism or an end to flying in planes. Kristiina Krogus, 36, says there are plenty of things individuals can do to help the environment: “I’m really trying to make a difference already cutting out the plastics,” she says, “but people should also be aware that every person can change the world.”
Beyond any individual cause, these people are here because they feel they can no longer stay silent. They came because they are feeling scared—and, for some, inspired. Several marchers mention Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist who started the original Fridays for Future movement, as a role model. “I think she’s doing a very well job getting everybody active and she said it doesn’t matter if you’re a student or how old are you, every person counts in this,” said Krogus. Others carried signs that read “Make the planet Greta again.”
Years of high-level climate talks have brought very little meaningful progress to halt the burning of fossil fuels and slow the pace of climate change. Global carbon emissions reached an all-time high last year, when climate change contributed to several catastrophic weather events around the world, from wildfires to heat waves and droughts.
We are running out of time, and these young people know it. That’s why the march today in Zurich, one of many such marches, was such a bittersweet mix of joy and sorrow. But what motivated them to show up was hope. As Tuchschmid said, holding his son and daughter close to him, “a wave is coming.”