For thousands of German students pushing for greater urgency in the fight against global damage tied to climate change, the rock star of the moment Friday was 16-year-old activist Greta Thunberg of Sweden.
Greta, who sparked a growing worldwide movement months ago by staging school strikes in Stockholm on Fridays, told about 25,000 participants in a Berlin demonstration that their elders had not done enough to control carbon emissions that scientists blame for rising temperatures.
“The older generations have failed tackling the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced,” Greta told a crowd gathered at the Brandenburg Gate at the end of a three-hour rally and after a two-mile march through the government quarter behind a banner reading “Our house is on fire.”
The Berlin demonstration was among more than 20 rallies across Germany loosely connected to a “Fridays for Future” weekly school-skipping movement designed to raise pressure on policymakers and industrialists to do more to protect the future.
The #FridaysForFuture website listed a total of 879 rallies registered in 69 countries from Australia to Canada on Friday — including 279 in the United States.
“When we say to [government and business leaders] we’re worried about the future of our civilization, they just pat us on our heads and say, ‘Everything will be fine, don’t worry,’” Greta said Friday. “But we should worry. We should panic. I don’t mean running around screaming. I mean stepping out of our comfort zones, because when you’re in a crisis, you change your behavior.”
A United Nations panel of scientists, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, warned in October that if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated, the atmosphere would warm by as much as 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial averages by 2040 — worsening droughts, wildfires, sea-level rise and poverty. Global temperatures have already risen an average of about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels.
Luisa Neubauer, the leader of the demonstrations in Germany, said in a speech at the start of the Friday rally that the protests would continue for the foreseeable future.
“As long as the government leaders sitting in the buildings around us don’t start taking action, and until the suits in this country get going on this issue, we’re not going to stop demonstrating,” said Neubauer, 22. “And we’re not going to let anyone get in our way.”
Many students carried placards, with some bearing slogans such as “You are never too small to make a difference,” “System change instead of climate change” and “I want snow for Christmas.”
Even though the school-skipping rallies in Berlin have been held every Friday since December, several students in the crowd said they took part for the first time.
“It’s important that our political leaders start doing the job to protect future generations,” said Flora Mueller, a 15-year-old Berlin high school student.
“I hope things will start to change because of us,” said Jonathan Deissler, 17, who said he was going to face punishment at his high school for cutting classes for the second time Friday. “We’ve already put climate protection at the top of the agenda even though most politicians are still asleep about this.”
Greta, who is to receive Germany’s “Golden Camera” prize Saturday for her climate crusades, concluded her speech on a slightly more upbeat note.
“We want a future. Is that too much to ask for?” she said. “We still haven’t seen anything yet. This is only the beginning of the beginning.”
Kirschbaum is a special correspondent.