Thousands of schoolchildren descended on central London Friday, walking out of their classrooms to voice their anger at the lack of government action on climate change.
Hundreds of banners and placards with messages like “There Is No Plan(et) B” were held high while chants of “Hey, hey, ho, ho, climate change has got to go” rang out across Parliament Square in Westminster. Protesters, some as young as 12, gathered beneath a statue of Mahatma Gandhi before amassing outside Downing Street, the home of the Prime Minister.
According to the protests’ organizers, a group known as Youth Strike 4 Climate, similar protests were taking place in more than 60 towns and cities across the U.K. Over 200 academics signed an open letter published in The Guardian Wednesday in support of the march.
Other student-led movements have gained momentum across the world in recent months, with demonstrations taking place in Australia, Belgium, Germany, the United States, Japan and elsewhere. Just this week, there were large demonstrations in Belgium, Switzerland, Germany and France.
The campaign has been inspired by the actions of Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old activist who made headlines last year when she began picketing outside Swedish government buildings, angry that her country was not doing enough to stick to the Paris Climate Agreement. The movement is set to go global on March 15, with students in countries around the world planning to walk out of school.
In a statement shared with TIME, British Prime Minister Theresa May’s official spokesperson warned against the “disruption” being caused by the protests.
“Everybody wants young people to be engaged in the issues that affect them most so that we can build a brighter future for all of us,” reads the statement. “But it is important to emphasize that disruption increases teacher’s workloads and wastes lesson time that teachers have carefully prepared for. That time is crucial for young people precisely so that they can develop into the top scientists, engineers and advocates that we need to help tackle this problem.”
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the U.K’s Labour Party and Opposition, said he understood why kids were disappointed by older generations, calling climate change “the greatest threat that we all face.”
For Severn Cullis-Suzuki, a researcher at the University of British Columbia and environmentalist, Thunberg’s story feels familiar. In a speech to the U.N. in 1992, the then-12-year-old Cullis-Suzuki denounced world leaders for not doing enough to tackle global warming. She says she feels frustrated by government inaction since then, but remains optimistic that meaningful change can be brought about.
“The fact that we are still destroying our youth’s future shows that we have a social situation that is broken,” she says. “We need to listen to what the youth of today are saying. Adults tend to feel overwhelmed by climate change – we think ‘oh, god, there’s nothing we can do about it’. Young people think the opposite way: ‘No, of course we can change the world,’ they say. And they’re absolutely right.”
In London on Friday, several protesters criticized the reluctance among British politicians to tackle the existential threat to humanity posed by climate change. “Some countries will be underwater in the next ten years unless we do something,” says Eliza, a 15-year-old who joined the protests Friday. “We want politicians to declare a climate emergency. Theresa May should start listening to people; Brexit is important, for sure, but climate change is forever.”
Another protestor, Sidney McCleod, 16, said he and his generation were fed up of being ignored. “Old people think we’re ignorant, but look around,” he says, gesturing to the swelling crowd. “We’re pretty clued in.”
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