"I don’t want to have to worry that by the time I'm 30, the air might not be breathable”

On Friday, March 15, hundreds of school children clamoured for change outside Sheffield City Hall as part of a demonstration that included roughly 1,769 similar strikes in 112 countries worldwide.

By Matilda Hersey
Wednesday, 20 March, 2019, 11:23
Student, Matilda Hersey protesting against climate change

This was the first ever global protest on the issue of climate change – and my first protest too.

With just nine weeks before my A-level exams, every day of school is incredibly valuable. Myself and many other like-minded students are aiming for top grades and top universities, but we feel we are being cheated of a sustainable future and for that we are having to sacrifice an education we cherish.

Students protesting against climate change in Sheffield

At the protest, a group of 38 other pupils from my school stood with me, triumphantly bearing signs reading ‘Why should I care about my A-levels when there are rising sea-levels’ and ‘March now or swim later!’. Our participation in the protest was entirely self organised, with teachers even threatening detentions to those who chose to leave school. One student remarked ‘It seems unfair – school has always taught us to be active, caring citizens, so they should feel successful when their students make a stand and show that they care.’

The protest was, of course, inspired by teen Greta Thunberg who has been striking every Friday on the steps of Swedish ‘parliament’. Her demands include a state of climate emergency be declared and for increased educational action on the affects of climate change, so that we can all understand – or even acknowledge, in some cases (I’m looking at you, Mr Trump) the threat that looms ever closer. My social media has been flooded – pardon the pun – with tips for reducing our carbon footprint, campaigns against single use plastic and horrifying images of the damage we are doing to our beautiful planet; all shared or composed by people my own age.

In the mainstream media however, the airwaves are relentlessly clogged with ‘Brexit’, an essentially egotistical crusade that will not matter if we are all underwater in 12 years’ time. Why is our generation having to fight for its future like no other has before? As one of my classmates put it: ‘It feels like we’re the first generation to fully appreciate the severity of climate change, and probably the last who will be able to stop it.’

Despite being a part of the first generation to acknowledge the severity of climate change on this scale, scientists have been warning against the effects of human activity for over two decades, and frankly I find this appalling. From as young as I can remember, I can recollect hearing about campaigns to save the great barrier reef, and within my own 18 years it has gone from one of the world’s wonders to a bleached graveyard. Last year, a reported 22 percent of the reef was recorded dead, and while that doesn’t sound like much, it’s an enormous 75,768 square kilometres of coral. And the cause? Rising temperatures in the sea. The people in power do not take action despite the scientific warnings, and when all is left withered and grey they send their thoughts and prayers. As a friend of mine said in her speech at the protest – ‘we need to hold our government accountable!’ When we burn oil or coal, it releases CO2, and this layer of carbon dioxide traps heat which would have otherwise been radiated out into space, and causes  – you guessed it –  ‘global warming’. This in turn increases the temperature of the sea and voila! The demise of the once wonderful great barrier reef.

One of the most sickening aspects of this global disaster is that oil companies have known about it’s effects for decades, and continued on a path of destruction. What’s worse is that when their own companies predicted ‘global warming’, oil giants like Shell and Exxon began preparations for drilling in the Arctic, as thanks to their detrimental business, the arctic ice was predicted to be (and now is) thin enough to allow drilling for oil to begin. This cannot happen. Arctic wildlife is balancing on an ever melting precipice, and to add the threat of oil spill to an already damaged eco-system is nothing less than cruel. All these reasons were part of my decision to strike on Friday. I don’t want to have to worry that by the time I am 30, the air may not be breathable. I don’t want to worry that crops will no longer be able to grow. It’s not all doom and gloom however. This week, I have organised meetings with senior staff to discuss changes we can make around school to decrease our environmental impact: changes including removing plastic drinking bottles and straws from cafeterias, introducing recycling bins and increasing awareness among students of the radical change we need to sustain our home.