Youth-Led Climate Change Protests Heat Up

17:05 minutes

a group of children protesting with signs, some read "there is no PLANet B" and "stop these ferocious flames" with a planet on fire
In a previous protest, kids participate in the Youth Strike For Climate at Parliament Square in London, February 15, 2019. Credit: Shutterstock

It all started with 16-year-old environmental activist Greta Thunberg. Last August Thunberg started skipping school on Fridays to protest outside Sweden’s parliament, insisting her country get behind the Paris Climate Agreement.

Her protests have inspired thousands of young people around the world to join the #FridaysForFuture movement, skipping school to demand that their governments take action against climate change.

And on Friday March 15th, these young people will take things a step further—joining together across more than 90 countries and 1,200 cities in the Youth Climate Strike. Sarah Kaplan, science reporter for the Washington Post, reports live from the scene of one of those stikes in Manhattan’s Columbus Circle. Plus, Ira speaks with Isabella Fallahi, Youth Climate Strike organizer and Varshini Prakash, executive director and co-founder of the Sunrise Movement about what’s inspiring this current moment of youth-led activism.

Further Reading

  • Find more information about the U.S. Youth Climate Strike.
  • Learn about Greta Thunberg’s #FridaysForFuture movement. 
  • Meet some of the youth who are participating in the climate protests in the U.S., by Sarah Kaplan and Brady Dennis in Washington Post.
  • Read about what young activists feel about how their views are being received by government officials in The Guardian. 

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Segment Guests

Sarah Kaplan

Sarah Kaplan is a science reporter at the Washington Post in Washington D.C..

Isabella Fallahi

Isabella Fallahi is a State Level Organizer for the Youth Climate Strike, and a sophomore at Carmel High School in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Varshini Prakash

Varshini Prakash is the co-founder and Executive Director of the Sunrise Movement, based in Boston, Massachusetts.

Segment Transcript

IRA FLATOW: This is Science Friday. I’m Ira Flatow. It all started with 16-year-old environmental activist, Greta Thunberg. Last August, Thunberg started skipping school in Fridays to protest outside Sweden’s parliament. Insisting her country get behind the Paris Climate Agreement. Her protests have inspired thousands of young people around the world to join #FridaysforFuture. That’s a hashtag, #FridaysforFuture movement. 

Skipping school Fridays to demand that their governments take action against climate change. And today, those young people are taking steps, well a step further. Joining together across more than 90 countries, 1,200 cities for a global youth climate strike. 

It’s happening in cities across the world as we speak including here in New York, where we have our guest Sarah Kaplan. Science reporter for The Washington Post, on the scene in Manhattan’s Columbus Circle. Hi, Sarah. 


IRA FLATOW: Tell us what the scene is like where you are. How many students are there? What’s going on? 

SARAH KAPLAN: You could probably hear from the background noise, It is pretty busy. I guess there are about 1,000, if not more students here. Lots of them have posters, they are chanting. We are the youth, we are the future, we want climate action on climate change now. And yeah, they’ve been sort of pouring from all over New York. There were 10 protests around the city this morning. And they’re coalescing at this rally here at Columbus Circle. 

IRA FLATOW: How did it get organized? Was it all online and people know to come? 

Yeah, so a lot of it is online. Here in New York, the protests really started with a young, 13-year-old named Alexandra Villasenor. She has been protesting in front of the United Nations headquarters every Friday, inspired by Greta Thunberg. And she is one of the national leaders of the US Youth Climate Strike Movement. And so they’ve been organizing online, but also a lot of it has happened organically. 

People find out about it because they saw it on Reddit or Twitter. Or they read a newspaper article and they’re like, well, I want to organize a strike in front of my school, or in front of Brooklyn Bridge hall. 

IRA FLATOW: Do you have any students there we might speak with? 

SARAH KAPLAN: Yeah, so actually Simone is right here. I’m going to give the phone to her. 


IRA FLATOW: Hi there. Welcome to Science Friday. Tell us about why you’re there. 

I’m here because climate change is an issue that’s very real. And our elected officials and politicians aren’t doing anything about it. And we may not, at this age, have a chance to put in a ballot or vote. But we still have a voice, and this is how we’re going to use it and get across our message that change is coming, whether they like it or not. Like Greta said. And we’re ready to take action and do whatever it takes to let our voice be heard and make a difference in the world. 

IRA FLATOW: Do you have the support of your teachers or parents in doing this? Because I understand you are 13. 

SIMONE: Yeah, so my parents are in full support of this. And some of my teachers are. And one of my teachers, my humanities teacher actually, he is the one who inspired us to start striking school, because he got us into this and was teaching us about Greta and how Alexandria strikes every Friday. And he’s in full support of us. 

IRA FLATOW: Do you think that you can have any real influence on the future of climate change? 

SIMONE: I think so, because every person can make a difference. Every person’s voice matters. And if you think that your voice doesn’t matter, then no one’s ever going to make a difference. And no one’s ever going to change. Because if everyone thinks that nothing’s ever going to happen. And everything adds up, everything makes a difference in the end. And I think that’s why this movement has already grown so much. 

If you look at how many people are even here today and across the world, it’s really inspiring. 

IRA FLATOW: Well, thank you for taking time to talk with us. And so if you give Sarah back the phone, that would be great. 

SIMONE: Thank you. 


IRA FLATOW: Hi, Sarah. 


IRA FLATOW: You know, we can really hear the chanting behind you. It sounds like– 

Yeah, so they’re actually now starting to march through Central Park. 

Wow, and she seemed– the students seemed to be very motivated here. Like they feel like they can make a difference. 

SARAH KAPLAN: Yeah, I think that for them, they really feel like this is their future that’s on the line. Climate change, so often for people, feels really abstract and in the distance. But if you’re a fifth grader now, then by the time you graduate college, that’s going to be 2030, which is when the UN has said that the planet may warm by 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

So we’ll start seeing really dramatic implications for climate change. So I think it feels probably more visceral and more real to these kids than it does to a lot of adults. 

IRA FLATOW: Well Sarah, thank you very much for taking the time to head out to New York and to that site, the striking site for us. Sarah Kaplan, science reporter for The Washington Post. Thanks again. 

Now, we want to turn to another part of the country, to Indianapolis, Indiana, where another strike is just wrapping up. And joining me from there is Isabella Fallahi, student organizer for the Youth Climate Strike. Isabella, welcome to Science Friday. 

ISABELLA FALLAHI: Hi, thanks for having me. 

IRA FLATOW: You just wrapped up, right? Your youth climate strike there in Indianapolis? How did it go? 

ISABELLA FALLAHI: We just wrapped up. It went great, actually. I think at peak, we had maybe around 300 to 400 people from across the state and over 20 different schools. And everyone was super involved and engaged. And we got people signed on to the hashtag #JoinJuliana. They got to work with two or three other organizations and kids in order to continue their efforts after today to fight for climate justice. 

IRA FLATOW: I want to also bring on another guest who’s joining us from Boston. Varshini Prakash, co-founder and executive director of the Sunrise Movement. Welcome to Science Friday. 

VARSHINI PRAKASH: Hello, thanks for having me. 

IRA FLATOW: How does it make you feel when adults politicians don’t seem to take your youth movement seriously? Varshini? 

VARSHINI PRAKASH: Oh sorry, thought you were talking to Isabella there. 

IRA FLATOW: Well, I’m going to talk to both of you. I wanted to know– 



VARSHINI PRAKASH: Great. No, I think what we are seeing right now is an unprecedented call for action, globally. I’ve just been glued to my computer screen this morning, and we’ve seen that the politicians, the generations before us have failed the future. They haven’t heeded the science, they’ve pandered to oil and gas interests, and they’ve dragged their feet at the moment when we need courageous leadership the most. 

And now this movement is emerging to really shock the world into recognizing that we have just 12 years left to take drastic action. And that our politicians need to do something about the climate crisis or get out of the way of the new and energized leadership that’s emerging from the youngest of the young in this country and around the world. 

IRA FLATOW: Isabella, do you think that adults are taking you seriously now? 

ISABELLA FALLAHI: I think they’re going to start taking us seriously very soon. And if they aren’t, then we’re just going to keep striking. We’re going to keep fighting, and we’re going to keep yelling out the injustices that the youth are facing, that our future is facing, and they will take us seriously. I’ll promise you that much. 

IRA FLATOW: How did you get involved in this movement, Isabella? 

ISABELLA FALLAHI: So [INAUDIBLE] reached out to me, because a lot of us youth activists from across the country were good friends. We have a network, and so she reached out to me and asked me if I could help lead one in Indiana. So we got the whole process started, we got our permits, we worked with representatives from a bunch of different schools, and that’s how it started here in Indianapolis. 

IRA FLATOW: And what is going to happen after today? Does the movement sort of break up, Isabella? 

ISABELLA FALLAHI: The movement is not breaking up, I’m telling you that much. If anything, we’re more energized, and we’re ready to keep fighting for climate justice. We’re ready to keep demanding the utmost support from our legislators. We are planning an Advocacy Day coming up here shortly. And part of that is we are trying to get the state legislature to reject a bill, HB1470. 

In which is going to sort of expand the fossil fuel industry in Indiana. And once again continue to put profit over people. 

IRA FLATOW: Our number, 844-724-8255, if you’d like to talk about these students striking today. 844-724-8255. Varshini, students have also brought a lawsuit against the government over climate change. It’s been working its way through the courts, is that not correct? 

VARSHINI PRAKASH: That’s right, yes. And there are many young people, including Isabella and others who have been suing the government over their inaction on climate. So we’re not just seeing people mobilizing in the streets. We’re seeing people use legal courses of action, advocacy, lobbying, young people are really coming to a four in a big way, all across the country. 

IRA FLATOW: Isabella, are you part of the #JoinJuliana movement, too? 

ISABELLA FALLAHI: Yes, so I am the This Is Zero Hour lead for the #JoinJuliana campaign. So I so work with Jamie Margolin and Nadia Nazar. However, I do take up most of the reins when it does come to expanding on that. We are working with our children’s trust. The goal for today was to get strikes and encourage students attending these strikes across the country to sign onto the Anarchists [INAUDIBLE] 

And I think we’ve been just that, and afterwards #JoinJuliana has got a lot to come. And we’re are really just trying to maintain this momentum behind the use of [INAUDIBLE]. 

IRA FLATOW: And are you surprised by the turnout you had today? 

ISABELLA FALLAHI: I am not surprised by the turnout we had today. The youth are educated on the subject, they’re passionate about it, and they understand that our future is at stake. 

IRA FLATOW: How do you feel when you know there have been there have been pictures of the youth marching on Capitol Hill, and some of the politicians sort of pooh poohing the– these little kids are up here, get them out of our hair. You know? Not all of them, but some of them. 

ISABELLA FALLAHI: I think that they’re just scared. They’re scared that they’re not going to win their next election, because we are speaking truth to power. We are dismantling the system that’s in front of us in which prioritizes fossil fuel money over students, over the youth’s future. And we are quickly exposing that truth for the world to see. For Americans to see, and for the world to see. I think that’s going to stop real quickly. And that’s what they’re so scared about. 

IRA FLATOW: You sound like you’re making a pitch as a politician. 


IRA FLATOW: Do you want to get into politics? 

ISABELLA FALLAHI: Absolutely. I want to obviously go through House of Representatives and the Senate, but my ultimate goal in my life is to aim for the Oval Office in 2044. And I hope the politicians today can start making changes to address climate change, so that I have the ability to achieve that dream. 

IRA FLATOW: Do you promise to come on Science Friday when you get there in 2044? 


IRA FLATOW: Varshini? The youth led climate change movement supports the Green New Deal. So if the government were to accept, let’s say, the Green New Deal. Would that be good enough? 


VARSHINI PRAKASH: Yeah, absolutely– 

ISABELLA FALLAHI: The Green New Deal is just a step. 

IRA FLATOW: OK, Isabella. 


IRA FLATOW: You can go first. 

ISABELLA FALLAHI: No, I’m sorry, go ahead. 

VARSHINI PRAKASH: No, you’re good. Yeah, so how we understand the Green New Deal, is really, the Green New Deal is probably the only solution on the table right now that actually tackles the climate crisis at the scale that is required and mandated by science and that justice demands. It is a 10 year plan to rapidly overhaul every part of our economy and society at a scale not seen since World War II. 

To eliminate poverty, to create tens of millions of good, high paying jobs for working people, and to ensure a just transition for communities that are on the front lines of poverty and pollution. So it is one of the most comprehensive solutions out there right now and has garnered a lot of support from 2020 hopefuls, from politicians up and down the ballot, and also a wide swath of the population. 

IRA FLATOW: I’m Ira Flatow, This is Science Friday from WNYC Studios. Let’s go to the phones. Let’s go to Ryan in Charlotte, North Carolina. Hi, Ryan. 

RYAN: Hi Ira, how are you today? 

IRA FLATOW: Hey there, fine. Go ahead. 

RYAN: So I just wanted a comment on everything that these kids are doing. I myself am 25 years old, and I’ve been to an EPA forums and Clean Air Act in the Charlotte area, as well as Raleigh, North Carolina. Typically, I’m the youngest person that’s there. And sometimes, I’m one of the only concerned citizens. 

So the fact that all of these amazing kids are out there, they’re being courageous, and they’re just coming together to really make sure their voices are being heard. It’s extremely encouraging and empowering for even people like myself, where I’ve felt alone in managing some of these functions. 

But now, I’m feeling even more empowered by these amazing kids, because together, we all are being heard. And we will change the future for the better. 

IRA FLATOW: Well, thanks for calling. Varshini, why do you think we’re seeing this youth movement right now? Why is climate change resonating with them? 

VARSHINI PRAKASH: Right. Well, I think we’re really at a tipping point. As we’ve said numerous times, the scientists are telling us that time is running out. As long as our generation has been alive on this planet, we’ve seen politicians sort of pussyfooting around the issue and not taking courageous action. And this generation has not experienced a life that isn’t full of monster hurricanes and apocalyptic fires. 

We are really a climate generation, and we’re looking at a future– we’re looking at a world with no future, really, and saying, enough is enough. What is the point of keeping my mouth shut and staying quiet and in school, if we have a planetary emergency on our hands? And so I really think what we’re also realizing, and what the world is realizing, is that we have everything that we need. 

Technological innovation, technology, is not the issue right now. The science tells us so. Public support is with us, over 80% of Americans support a Green New Deal, including 64% of Republicans. So right now, the only thing that is lacking is the political will. It’s politicians who don’t have the moral and courageous leadership in this moment to do the things that are necessary. And that is why we’re seeing this uprising of young people around the world. 

IRA FLATOW: Isabella, do you agree? We’ve seen the young people taking the lead in gun control. Now we’re seeing it in climate change. Do you feel that young people have to step up now? 

ISABELLA FALLAHI: Yeah, absolutely. Because I think it’s been apparent that the two things that have defined our politics in this country is money and greed. It’s affecting every aspect of our life and our future. From a youth perspective, when we don’t want to live in a world where temperatures are continuing to rise, sea levels are rising, and you’re starting to see environmental disasters take place. 

And that similar sort of pattern even occurs when we talk about gun control in the March for Our Lives movement. Is that we’re tired of seeing money take more precedence over students, over youth. 


ISABELLA FALLAHI: We really need more action towards it, because we don’t want to die, from guns or climate change. 

IRA FLATOW: Well, I can’t advance the conversation any more than that. I want to thank both of you for taking time to be with us today. Isabella Fallahi, organizer for the Youth Climate Strike, and a sophomore at Carmel High School outside of Indianapolis. Thank you, Isabella, for taking time in your busy day. 

ISABELLA FALLAHI: Thank you for having me. 

IRA FLATOW: You’re welcome. Also, Varshini Prakash, co-founder and executive director of the Sunrise Movement. Thank you for taking time for us on this busy day. 

VARSHINI PRAKASH: Thank you. Thanks for having me. 

IRA FLATOW: You’re welcome.

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