Why should students strike over climate change tomorrow? Here, 22 of New Zealand's leading scientists and academics explain.
Professor Tim Naish, Antarctic Research Centre, Victoria University
I'll be marching in Wellington in support of my son Henry, 15, who is Year 11 at Onslow College, because he doesn't want to live on Mars. He likes this planet, but is pissed off with my generation for not taking action to look after it when the scientific evidence is so compelling. Unfortunately my son hears me talk regularly about the challenge of keeping global warming under 2C – the Paris Target, and the potential for irreversible collapse of the polar ice sheets and sea-level rise. He says to me if our house was on fire we would act immediately to save, so why aren't we doing anything to save our planet? I don't know what to say anymore.
Bronwyn Hayward, Associate Professor of Political Science and International Relations, University of Canterbury.
On Friday I have the honour of being "the token adult" speaker at a Christchurch climate strike event. I was invited to speak for three minutes by the impressive 12 year old Lucy Gray, who is leading the committee organising the event. What can I say on behalf of adults, who have gambled with these children's futures? I know I bring the support of 1562 research and teaching colleagues who signed an open letter supporting their concerns, and efforts. But to those who ask, "what is the point of this school strike, it won't change anything?". To you I say, these young voices, who are mobilising, organising, forcing their reality onto our news and social media feeds, they are the point. This is not another protest that will pass, notice what is happening, listen to what is being demanded, because this is the beginning of a generation of change.
Associate Professor Nicola Gaston, Department of Physics, the University of Auckland, co-director, the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology
As someone who remembers being taught about climate change at high school — or "global warming", as we called it in the 90s — I am equal parts thrilled to see the strike action being taken, and horrified by the realisation of just how complicit my generation has been in allowing climate change to get this bad. To my mind, the key problem has been the framing of climate action as an individual responsibility — the exhortations to just not fly, or to cycle, or to not eat meat — which while sensible measures where possible, leave many people feeling guilty, frustrated and powerless. Climate change is not a problem of individual responsibility, it requires a collective response both at national and international levels — and strike action is exactly the right way to insist on the need for systemic change.
Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles, head of Bioluminescent Superbugs Lab, University of Auckland
I'm delighted to support the action of our young people. The adults in positions of power have shown themselves woefully incapable of making the significant changes we need to protect all our children's futures. As a generation brought up with Katniss Everdeen and Harry Potter, we shouldn't be at all surprised our incredible kids are taking matters in to their own hands. We should all be learning from their example.
Professor Shaun Hendy, physicist, the University of Auckland
The kids know that things are very much not okay with our climate, and they've had to watch us talk and talk and talk about it and then fail to act. Our kids have seen us fail to act collectively on climate and are taking a day off school to show us how it is done. We need to learn from them.
Dr Alex Macmillan, public health physician, senior lecturer at the University of Otago and co-convenor of OraTaiao: The New Zealand Climate and Health Council.
While failing to take the necessary actions to protect health, we are also missing out on the potential to improve our quality of life now and for our children's future. Well-designed climate action can address some of our most important health issues – many of which cause many thousands of children to have unnecessary days off school each year. By simply reducing car use and our burning of coal we could prevent many of these sick days because as well as reducing the emissions that cause climate change we would also be addressing air pollution.
Professor Alistair Woodward, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, University of Auckland
We should celebrate the action these students are taking. They are the generation who will inherit a 2100 world. For them the risks are not remote, and what they are seeking is absolutely consistent with what we know about the science of climate disruption. Rapid, early and wide-scale changes must be made.
Dr Rhys Jones, senior lecturer, Te Kupenga Hauora Māori, University of Auckland
I fully support the students participating in school strikes, who are drawing attention to a critical issue for humanity. Climate change is the most serious threat to human health this century, and the only hope for a safe and healthy future is immediate action to radically transform all aspects of society. In that context one can easily understand the frustration felt by many young people at the responses to date – little more than empty promises, shameful inaction and pathetic excuses. We often hear children and young people referred to as "leaders of tomorrow". However, in stepping up to take the future into their own hands they are clearly demonstrating their status as leaders right now. Our generations' unconscionable inaction in the face of a clear and present threat is a betrayal of young people and future generations. Let's listen carefully to what young people are telling us and allow them to assume their rightful role as "leaders of today".
Professor Niki Harre, School of Psychology, University of Auckland
If I was 16, I'd be terrified by the behaviour of adults in politics and the media – who is going to look after me in a world that seems more interested in controversy than in calmly figuring out how to solve the problems we face? The strikes are also inspiring because young people are expressing their fear and anger collectively. Fear often leads to withdrawal when the problem is huge and the person concerned feels unable to take meaningful action. By organising these strikes, young people have given each other a way to do something that just might make a difference. Instead of feeling isolated and miserable they are now standing united, and that is huge.
Professor James Renwick, climate scientist, Victoria University
I support the strike action because it is only public action, public protest, civil disobedience, that will hasten change. To bring about faster and broader climate action, we must all speak up, let our elected representatives know that we are worried and that we want action. The School Strike is exactly the kind of public protest we need to speed up action on climate change. The section of society that will feel the most effects from climate change is young people, who will live all of their lives in an increasingly changed environment. To avoid the worst futures, we need wide-ranging action, urgently. School students and young people have every reason and every right to protest, to save their collective future.
Dr David Hall, senior researcher, The Policy Observatory, AUT
It is an underappreciated fact that School Strike 4 Climate organiser Greta Thunberg is a descendant of Svante Arrhenius, the Nobel-prize-winning scientist who first calculated the greenhouse effect caused by carbon dioxide emissions in 1896. Over the century since, too many decision makers in business and government have acted in spite of this scientific knowledge. They have entrenched a high-emissions status quo that must be disrupted, sooner rather than later. By leading these protests, Thunberg has complemented the scientific insights of her ancestor with the force of political action. Climate action requires not only science, but politics.
Dr Sylvia Nissen, Lecturer, Department of Environmental Management, Lincoln University
The students' message is as clear as it is uncompromising – that we must urgently reduce greenhouse emissions across all sectors of society to avoid even more severe impacts of a changing climate. It's a message that is grounded in the latest science on climate change, while reminding us that climate is a matter of social justice with the burdens falling on those least responsible, including children and future generations. Above all, it is a message that should unsettle us all into action – hope is not enough when the wellbeing and survival of the planet and those who inhabit it are at stake.
Jacob Anderson, geologist and programme manager, The Sir Peter Blake Trust
The young people are frustrated because the adults aren't listening. The narrative has focused on "wagging" rather than climate change itself. Wouldn't it be more helpful if the coverage was focused on what we can do as a society to reduce our emissions and educate people about climate change? Education is one of the most powerful tools that we have to tackle climate change. By helping people understand, we can bring them along on this journey and take action on these issues.
Iain White, Professor of Environmental Planning, University of Waikato
We are already witnessing the effects of climate change, but we know these effects will grow during this century and beyond. Climate change is intergenerational and the youngest in society will be the ones who will both bear the least blame, but have the most responsibility to deal with the consequences of decisions made by others. They absolutely should make clear their anger with this situation and I completely support their right to be heard. The strike has already had a huge positive effect on raising awareness and creating new networks for action and I think the future looks more promising as a result of their convictions.
Dr Raven Cretney, Department of Political Science and Public Policy, The University of Waikato
The growing movement of leadership and action taken by students and young people across Aotearoa and the world is crucial for responding to the expansive and complex social and environmental problems that arise from climate change. We have known about this problem for many decades and now we must face the consequences that children and future generations will experience because of our inaction. We should listen carefully to the students' message and demands, and beyond that, be compelled to take urgent action. The science is clear that every action we take to reduce emissions is vital to limit the impacts of climate change. The students striking today remind us that we have an important choice as adults, and as a society, in how we respond to this challenge.
Dr Mike Joy, ecologist and senior researcher, Institute for Governance and Policy Studies, Victoria University
The students striking for a liveable climate are sending a crucial message to all of us, and I support them unconditionally. Theirs is the future, they are inheriting a severely compromised planet because of generations of profligacy. They will spend their lives trying to put right our wrongs and this is a massive task. A task that is made harder every day we carry on with our reckless growth imperative. I wish them all the best and will be fighting alongside them bring about the degrowth needed to save the life supporting capacity of our planet.
Dr Amanda Thomas, lecturer in environmental studies, Victoria University
We have plenty of knowledge and agreement about climate change, but not nearly enough action. The Student Strike 4 Climate is an incredibly inspiring and hopeful call to action. Students have managed a huge mobilisation of local organisers, enabling young people everywhere to exercise their democratic rights. The strike is part of a broader history of direct action in Aotearoa New Zealand that has made our society better and fairer. People organising, working and acting together is how we solve injustice, like the unequal burdens climate change is already producing. I hope many adults get in behind this student-led movement, hear their demands and act on them.
Professor Ralph Chapman, School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences, Victoria University
For years, people turned away when some of us talked about the threat posed by climate change to civilisation on this planet, and the urgent need to act on climate change. A case in point - 13 years ago, New Zealand scientist Peter Barrett was challenged for identifying exactly such a risk. Now, as David Attenborough says, the risk of a collapse of our civilisation, and the extinction of much of the natural world, is on the horizon. Our complacency and our consumption habits, such as our car dependence, have created this future for our children. We must now all act with urgency, to cut emissions by half, over 11 years, in line with the IPCC's latest report. Parents and grandparents need to act through the political process to drive change and cut emissions. Individual behaviour change helps, but is not enough. All parents should explain to their children what they are doing and why.
Professor Richard Easther, head of physics, University of Auckland
When climate scientists describe their work, one of the scariest phrases they use is "business as usual". It sounds innocuous, but it describes futures in which present emissions patterns continue largely unchanged. In these scenarios climate change damages global ecosystems, disrupts farming and agriculture, accelerates extinction events, and creates instability in countries unable to mitigate the impact of a changing climate on the lives of their citizens: today's teenagers would live in that world. Ultimately, I support the strike because walking out of school for the day is a message to the adult world that "business as usual" is no longer an option - and the sooner we start taking climate change seriously the more we can do about it.
Dr Judy Lawrence, senior research fellow, Climate Change Research Institute, Victoria University
Congratulations to the school kids for raising their collective concern about New Zealand's contribution to the large increase in emissions and calling for action to reduce the climate change impacts they will inherit when they are enfranchised.
Dr Craig Stevens, physical oceanographer, past president of the New Zealand Association of Scientists
The generation that will be out there on strike will be the first to feel the wide-ranging impacts coming our way due to the activities of those that have gone before them. Given that they can't vote, but yet have so much at stake, I think it is awesome to see what's being organised globally and locally and the inspiring and articulate young people behind the initiatives. My own science is around changing oceans and associated effects around New Zealand and Antarctica and so I get a ring-side seat seeing evidence of how our global climate and earth systems are shifting. Weighed against this, I think all the discussion around school approval etc is a red herring relative to the enormity of what's at stake. I hope that we will be in a position a few decades hence to look back at this time as major global event that did good things for the planet.
Dr Janet Stephenson, director, Centre for Sustainability, University of Otago
I'm both exasperated and thrilled by the student climate march. I'm exasperated because we have failed young people. Since before they were born, we have known of the severe implications of climate change and the urgent need to take drastic action to reduce emissions. So far we've fiddled with policy but the planet continues to burn, threatening their future and that of all species. I'm thrilled because these are the voices we need to be listening to. They need to get loud and persistent because it's their future we are spoiling with inaction.
Professor Jim Salinger, Visiting Scholar, Pennsylvania State University
Congratulations on your March, as by the 2050s, you will be approaching or in your 50s – I certainly won't be here. Let's hope that by then with our collective action we will have prevented a time of climate disruption like the summer of 2017-18, so that Aotearoa, Land of the Long White Cloud, will not become Aoteapoto, Land of the Short White Cloud.
• The School Strike 4 Climate protests are scheduled to be held in Aotea Square in Auckland's CBD from midday until 3pm; at Civic Square in Wellington at 10am, followed by a walk down Lambton Quay to Parliament; at Cathedral Square in Christchurch from 1pm and at George St in Dunedin, followed by a rally in the Octagon. Events are also set for other centres including Hamilton, Palmerston North, Whanganui, New Plymouth, Lower Hutt and Nelson.