Scientists to Join Teens in Global Climate Strike
Scientists to Join Teens in Global Climate Strike

Scientists to Join Teens in Global Climate Strike

Those who plan to participate say communication is critical to researchers’ role.

Sep 19, 2019
Emma Yasinski

ABOVE: Fridays for Future protest in Munich, Germany on May 24, 2019
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Back in March, thousands of scientists walked out of work to join students in demanding action to stave off climate change. Tomorrow (September 20), they’ll do it again. Kids all over the world are planning to skip classes to send the message that climate change must be addressed, just ahead of the United Nations Climate Summit taking place on Monday in New York. A second strike is planned for Friday, September 27. Many scientists have pledged to lend their support and strike in solidarity with the teenaged organizers.

“Seeing the actions young people are taking and the global conversations they are inspiring is helping me to assuage my own overwhelming climate grief,” Sara Kahanamoku, a PhD candidate studying marine ecosystems at the University of California, Berkeley, who made plans to attend the strike as soon as she saw news of it on Twitter, tells The Scientist in an email.

The Climate Strike took shape out of Fridays For Future, a movement started about a year ago by then-15-year-old Greta Thunberg, who announced she’d be striking every Friday, sitting outside of the Swedish parliament until the country identified pathways to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. News of her protest spread on social media and has grown into a worldwide movement.

Tomorrow’s strikes are planned in thousands of locations across the globe.

Although the strikes were organized by teens as a school walkout, Thunberg and her fellow activists published a call to action in The Guardian in May, asking adults to participate. Holding off climate change “is not a single-generation job. It’s humanity’s job,” the authors wrote.

Quentin Read, an ecologist studying food waste at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, was hesitant about attending at first. He didn’t think that an event organized by young people should be “co-opted by adults.” But he spoke to Kallen Benson, one of the teenage organizers who he happens to know in Annapolis, and she encouraged him to attend.

BIO, PhRMA, and AAAS have not taken any official positions on the strike. The Union of Concerned Scientists announced that staff plan to support and attend. Many other partners are listed on the global climate strike website.

In addition to supporting the young organizers, scientists have some of their own reasons for attending. “As a kanaka maoli (native Hawaiian) scientist, I adhere to the values of aloha ´aina (a deep, familial love for the land) and malama ´aina (a responsibility to care for the land),” says Kahanamoku. “It goes against my deepest-held values to not attempt to act on the climate crisis.”

Read was inspired not only by the extreme weather events over the past several years, but also the birth of his baby two months ago. “That obviously provides a lot of motivation to work harder to make the world a better place,” he says. “What I’m doing now is not making the point forcefully enough.”

Read is planning to attend the strike in Annapolis with his family. Kahanamoku plans to spend the day outside, teaming up with a friend studying philosophy to pen an opinion piece on climate change. Nicholas Spano, a PhD candidate at the University of California, Berkeley, studying conservation paleobiology, will attend talks on sustainability and listen to speakers at a rally.

All three researchers The Scientist interviewed agreed that it’s far past the time for scientists to stop worrying about being impartial when it comes to how science is interpreted and used to inform policy. “You have to be objective when you’re doing a scientific study,” says Read. “But that does not mean you can’t communicate what you think your science means and what should be done.”

Emma Yasinski is a Florida-based freelance reporter. Follow her on Twitter @EmmaYas24.