Students march through the streets of Wellington during the strike to raise climate change awareness on March 15 (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

‘We’re striking because we’re terrified’: a student on the second climate strikes

Zoe Mills is a 17 year old high school student and one of thousands who joined the global climate strikes. She explains why her generation feel this moment so acutely.

It’s an eerie sight. A sea of bodies lay across the worn concrete of the Queen Street intersection. A faint murmuring grows in an impassioned roar: “Wake up! Wake up!”

On May 24th, I was one of the thousands of students around the world to strike for climate action. The #SchoolStrike4Climate movement has been led by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. The themed ‘lie-in’ protest aims to target politicians and world leaders and to get them to “wake up” on climate action.  

And wake up we did. But as for the government? That’s debatable. This isn’t the first time students in New Zealand have joined the School Strike for Climate Change.

A little over two months ago, on March 15th, thousands of students flooded into Aotea Square with roaring protest and fiery passion. An impromptu march ruled the length of Queen Street for over an hour, with strikers from all walks of life echoing “The oceans are rising and so are we!” The strike was brought to life through speeches, music, poetry and deafening chants – all heightened by teenage intensity and stamina.

Thousands of voices stifled by a single act of pure hatred in Christchurch. So, the obvious solution was to try, and try again.

Today’s protest was not only a direct address to governments all around the world to wake up, but also a way to unite communities. Young people often feel alone, excluded or pushed to the sidelines – by uniting us under a common goal, we see change.

We can influence.

On the way to the strike this morning, I met Aysun Kokcu, a small girl with an impressive knowledge of the climate emergency, at the Newmarket train station. She held a hand-painted sign which had an arrow pointing to a picture of the earth with the caption “I’m with her”. While she waited for friends to join her, she told me “Protesting is going to cause attention. The youth are rising.

“I remember it being so passionate,” she said of the last protest. “I remember going down Queen Street and seeing all the faces around me… you can just see the passion in the student’s faces”.

Being 16 years old and told that by the time you’re middle-aged that the effects of climate change will be irreversible, or that Antarctica will cease to exist – it’s hard to process. Teenagers already have to deal with all the stress that comes with being young – school, relationships, peer pressure – but expecting us to come up with a solution to reverse the ultimate demise of planet? There’s not a lot of time to figure that out in between hockey practise and maths homework.

So as much as I’d like to be getting my education, there are more pressing issues that take priority. Probably one of the most frustrating things about protesting for anything as a teenager is being constantly patronised and told that it’s all part of ‘teen rebellion’.

Yes, we’re loud. Yes, we’re earnest. But dealing with the mass extinction of humanity is not just ‘teen rebellion’.

I think that a huge mistake a lot of adults and politicians make when trying to create climate action is making very, very small changes over a very, very long period of time and expecting dramatic change to occur. This, I believe, is to prevent civil unrest amongst older generations who believe that the environment is not a priority, in comparison to, for example, business.

But the reality is – change can never be made through playing along with the status quo. The new Zero Carbon Bill had its first reading in parliament. I was personally really excited to hear that something was finally being done about carbon emissions in New Zealand. This was going to make history.

But upon further reading and talking with friends, we realised that there was an issue with the bill – the bill aimed to lower greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

2050 is simply not good enough. We need action by 2030, at the very latest. In 2050, I will be 48 years old. If the bill continues into law in its current form, the effects of climate change will not only be at a point of irreversible damage, but the bill will have little to no effect lowering the earth’s temperature.

At most, we have 12 years to figure out a solution. That’s the same amount of years that I’ve been in school.

When you’ve been born into a world where older generations have left you to clean up the mess of their mistakes, sometimes you can feel helpless. When you’re not recognised by the government as a legal adult, your options are extremely limited. Protesting is not only a form of activism that unites communities, causes attention and that is easily accessible – but it’s a way for us to be taken seriously as adults.

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The truth is – we know what we’re talking about. My friend Libby Morrison explained the goals of the protest today: “We want proper climate action. We want a better zero-carbon policy”. Posters waved high today with statistics, facts and figures. The students aren’t doing this to make a scene – and by talking to any of them, it’s obvious that they’ve done their research.

Mike Hosking recently said that the strikes were just ‘hot air’ and an excuse for kids to wag school. But what’s the point of educating us for a future that we might not even have? So – if the government isn’t going to take sufficient action now and act like adults, then we are.

We’re not striking because we want media attention. We’re not striking because we have nothing better to do. We’re striking because we are absolutely terrified.


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