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In August 2018, in the wake of a recent heatwave and wildfires in Sweden, Greta Thunberg, age 15, began her famous protest to advocate for climate action. She sat alone outside the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm with a now globally recognisable sign -- ”Skolstrejk För Klimatet” (School Strike for Climate).

Thunberg’s school strike, which she continues to hold every Friday, has become a global sensation, snowballing into the largest ever international youth-led environmental movement known as Fridays for Future / Youth Strike for Climate. Later in the year, on 20 September, 2019, in collaboration with an array of environmental NGOs, the movement organized the world’s largest ever climate protest, led largely by children. Many adults were also in attendance.


SAN FRANCISCO | 15/03/19

Youth have a unique standpoint from which to drive value and behaviour change across society. They are positioned to face the worst consequences of decades of climate inaction and can effectively raise awareness of the unfair legacy they have received. Along with environmental action over the past year by other groups, they have undoubtedly helped spark increased dialogue on climate change. For instance, Oxford Dictionaries even declared “climate emergency” the word of the year, after usage of the term grew over 10,000 percent. 


How is it possible that Thunberg’s actions could burgeon from a single 15-year-old girl standing alone to millions of children and youth (as well as adults) participating around the world over the course of just one year? In part, perhaps the movement came along at the right time; emerging global phenomena are nearly impossible to predict and often are driven organically (in other words, without advertising). On the other hand, there are several potential factors at play that may have contributed to the movement’s rapid expansion:


  • The virality of Greta Thunberg’s compelling story (read her #beCOOL activist portrait), especially her unique matter of fact style of speaking truth to power in speeches such as at the United Nations COP24, which was shared extensively on social media.

  • Effective scalability of the school strikes organized by a variety of groups of mixed levels and diverse regions (e.g. national movements like Zero Hour, which actually initially inspired Thunberg’s strike, to highly localized groups at community levels), along with collaborations with long-established and influential NGOs like Any individual or group can initiate a school strike in their community, which are then mapped to allow others to find and join their nearest strike. Individuals can join email lists and social media groups with coordination details and reminders. Local strike leading organisers receive coordination information from the larger, overarching organising bodies.

  • Timing of the school strikes alongside the release of several alarming reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) showing increased climate risks and dwindling time left for governments to act, as well as the mobilization of other new climate activist groups (such as Extinction Rebellion).

  • Potential status considerations, peer pressure and other social factors among young people that may have motivated participation, in addition to concerns about climate change.

  • Partnerships and support from hundreds of institutions and NGOs (e.g., WWF), businesses (e.g., Patagonia) scientists (e.g., Scientists for Future, a collection of scientists from Austria, Germany and Switzerland) and some political leaders (e.g., UN General Secretary António Guterres).


While the exact impacts of this energetic movement are yet to be seen, we are living through a remarkable moment in which youth are leading the charge for climate action, and driving value and behavior change like never before.

Story by Cécile Gardin


LONDON | 15/03/19

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