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Climate Kids: Meet the Greta Green Army's Global Network of Young Activists


October 01, 2019 04:49:57 AM

As Greta Tunberg enters the chamber of the United Nations General Assembly, she has a collective breath of breath in the packed media booth she watches.

Key points:

  • Inspired by Greta Tunberg and the threat of climate change, a network of young people around the world are fighting for change
  • Thrown into the spotlight, some young activists receive professional branding advice
  • Activists say they will return to their old lives when political leaders take action

The emotionally charged address of the 16-year-old girl, who accuses world leaders of stealing her dreams and childhood, is a remarkable highlight of a remarkable year of youth activism.

The hashtag #howdareyou goes viral on social media.

Throughout the world, Ms Tunberg has inspired a grassroots movement that advocates tougher action to prevent global warming.

Two weeks ago, on September 20, this new green army of young activists staged global climate attacks, drawing about 4 million people to the streets.

Some of those campaigns now become stars in and of themselves.

For the past six months, a foreign correspondent has followed three young campaigners on three continents while learning the art of activism.

New York Brand Management Lessons

It's good Friday night in late May in New York, but schools haven't announced yet for 14-year-old climate activist Alexandria Villasshore

Alexandria and her mother, Christine Fogg, rush out of traffic to the hip building in Brooklyn's hip building for a meeting with "creative strategist" Christian Fleming.

They started a non-profit climate education organization and Mr Fleming advised them on dosing and donations to get started in the activist space.

Lesson number one: Don't look too smooth

"There is something to be said for being careful about how good you are at branding and activism," Mr Fleming told them.

The branding consultant warns them not to fall into the trap of mass-produced protest signs "because it's easy for anyone who wants to discredit the whole movement, to say someone's funding this," he says.

It has been six months since Alexandria launched its own weekly strike in front of the United Nations headquarters in midtown Manhattan, calling for more climate change action.

She has already spent several hours on the bench today, holding two hand-made cardboard signs, and she begins to fade.

"You're tired," Ms Fogg told her daughter.

"I'm, yes, I'm very tired," she agrees, nodding.

During a chilling cold serving New Yorkers during a full swirl in February, Alexandria staged a UN protest in a sleeping bag.

She continued her weekly protests in the pouring rain and continued her strike through the crippling heat of summer.

Pictures posted by Alexandria every week on social media have taken off and she has begun to develop celebrity status: she is busy with the media and a regular speaker on climate and youth events.

Her mother is a doctor of climate and cultural studies and the other half of what has become a savvy and successful double act.

Now, Alexandria and her mother are stepping up their climate actions in order to expand their nonprofit Earth Rebellion.

Lesson number two: Don't pay attention to attention

"Always do your best to promote other people so, you know, you can always say it's not me," advises Mark Fleming, director of the brand.

"It is such a great piece of advice," said Mrs. Fogg, enthusiastically and taking notes.

Navigating the politics of climate activism is just one of the challenges Alexandria is currently facing.

Like most high-profile campaigns, it faces sharp criticism from those who think it is naive, misguided and exploited by adults pushing their agendas.

In response to the indictment, the children control their parents, Mrs Fogg is clear: "The students run the sciences … [they] they are capable of reading science and it is actually very simple. "

Lesson number three: Ignore the trolls

"Don't worry about them," Mr Fleming told Alexandria. "They are a sign of your success."

Changed life has changed beyond recognition in Berlin

In Berlin, the 23-year-old Louisa Novauer University student is on a wild ride.

When foreign correspondents first met her in March, she had been organizing weekly strikes at school for three months. Louisa was inspired to start the protest after meeting with Mrs Tunberg last year at the COP24 climate conference in Poland.

Since then, her life has changed beyond recognition.

She went from geography student living in a small German town to a regular climate activist, spending most of her time in the capital Berlin, constantly on the move and always in demand.

"I guess I'm in some media these days," she says, gesturing to the prestigious German weekly Die Zeit, which has an article about her.

"I don't feel interesting – but it's obviously something."

That's something Louisa fights for saying she'd rather promote other members of the youth strikes organization, Friday for the Future. However, she quickly learns, this is not what the media wants.

"They want to meet people," she says. And right now, Louisa's face is everywhere.

Avoiding the spotlight is harder once you become an established brand, and that comes at a price.

"Jealousy, yes, it's a huge deal," she says.

When we next meet Louisa a few months later, she tells us that she has canceled 90% of the events she has been invited to, but still feels like working consistently: presidential meetings, connections with other activists, organizing events and giving interviews.

As a student, she managed to put her studies on hold while campaigning, but there are days when she longs to return to her old life.

Louisa says she can do so only when the German government draws up a plan to ensure fulfillment of the ambitions of the 2015 Paris Agreement – a UN-brokered agreement under which member states have agreed to take measures to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius.

"I wish every person who asked me how long this movement could survive would go to the politicians and ask them when they planned to start acting," she said.

"It's really up to them. When we act, we are good. I can go back to my thesis. "

In late May, Louisa is again the front and center of a large demonstration. This is Berlin's part of the global day of strikes.

Backstage has multiple tasks: conducting media interviews, signing autographs, social media releases, dealing with audio problems, late guests, uninvited guests – all while trying to rehearse their speech.

She admits she is nervous, but tells us she is getting better.

Upstairs, the technical challenges now forgotten, she delivers a thrilling speech to a huge crowd.

"As long as emissions don't go down," she says, "our future is in danger! And do you know what? Everything we have, and we won't let anyone take it from us! "

Looping mother in Sydney

In Sydney, Jeananne Finchliff's mother tries to nail down where her daughter is staying when a 15-year-old flies to New York alone for a UN climate summit.

"Will you divide the room, and with whom?" Lisa Shealy asks.

Jeanan is unclear about the details. "Yes, yes," she replies.

"It's with a few other strikers … but I'm not 100% sure about some others who will be there."

A Year 10 student at a western school, Jeanan's life has also turned into her involvement in climate youth strikes.

She fell into organizing strikes in schools by accident after sending an e-mail to some students in Victoria and offering to help.

"Suddenly I got a reply saying, 'Oh, we'd like to help you achieve this goal,' and I'm like, 'oh, sir, I'm the organizer.'

The speed with which her daughter became the centerpiece of the movement also surprised her mother.

"I just thought she was a little pie in the sky and who knows what she's been up to now and she's been going from there," says Ms. Healy.

A year ago, Jeanan says she didn't know how to embed her signature by email. Today, she is a key player in the Australian and international climate youth movement, as well as master of Sydney's climate attack ceremonies.

Training with activists in different time zones can result in late nights, which means getting to school on time is a challenge.

Ann argues that the life lessons she learns outside of school are just as valuable.

"We learn through this activism," she says. “I was forced to learn so much and to adapt in so many ways. And I'm very happy that I did. "

She says no one should be surprised that her generation takes a strong stand.

"I think I've spent my life growing up surrounded by this constant news of melting polar ice and the death of the Great Barrier Reef and animals that are losing their homes and fires and floods," she says.

"And, it was really scary for me growing up, knowing this was my future."

In New York for Climate Week

Jeananne is miles away when Ms Tunberg delivers her address at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York. The closest he can get is a block away, on a heavily guarded police barrier.

"I think it's funny that so many young people are not allowed to apply for this event," Jeananne told us.

15-year-old is upset Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was on a show.

"He's in town, he has to go … I feel like avoiding the summit is just another way he looks at the issue under the rug," she says.

Despite her frustrations, Jeanan feels resurrected from a trip to New York.

She networked with other activists and went on strike in an improvised way.

Jeanan says she will continue to pursue her activism, but thinks the movement may need to pause and work on new strategies.

"I think there is definitely a future for strike movement, but we need to find different forms of action," she told us from the back of the New York booth.

"As long as we're smart at it, we need to be OK."

Watch Foreign Correspondent Newsweek's Newspaper Tonight at 8pm on ABC and Ivive TV



environmental policy,

activism and lobbying,


Environmental management,

government and politics,

climate change,

climate change — disasters,

disaster-pollution and safety,



United States

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