2007 - 2021

Ten Things We Learned from the School Strike

1. Multiple leadership is required. Charismatic leadership models are vulnerable to being a single point of failure and being manipulated by the media. One of the best things to happen was to take the pressure of Greta Thunberg and allow many different figures and voices to appear in different countries and communities.

2. Those attempting to smear or attack young people look pathetic. They are representative of a failed elite – privileged power that is both culpable and unconscious.

3. Civil disobedience is essential, but is only one part of the movement for urgent transformational change. It should be supported by the movement but not seen AS the movement.

4. Children and young people are inspirational, but it’s not now “over to them”. It’s still OUR responsibility not theirs. They hold moral authority but not power.

5. If you’re cheering on the kids but routinely deride anyone advocating real change, cling to models of fossil fuel reliance, celebrate every North Sea oil discovery, or claim political impotence, have a word with yourself.

6. There’s different kinds of denialism now. Those who claim the man-made climate breakdown isn’t happening aren’t really important any more. The second and third tier denialists are the ones who know its happening but don’t want to to do anything about it. This normally has three forms: advocating ridiculously ineffectual changes (beach clean-ups, banning plastic straws etc); cleaving to future techno-fixes (CCS, geo-engineering etc); or bleating about lifestyle changes.

Basically if you think we can solve the climate crisis within this economic system, you’re in denial.

7. In the space of a species-wide crisis, framing climate or ecological activism as “middle-class” is pitiful.

8. Direct action and protest has to sharpen its focus. Is it spectacle or does it have an aim? Who is the target of the protest and what do you actually want them to do? This applies equally to XR and to the School Strike.

9. The climate action protests are intrinsically global and viral, especially in the hands of people under twenty. Memes and ends matter.

10. The real impact begins when we (adults) join in and don’t just applaud from the sidelines: #SchoolStrike4Climate meets #WorkStrike4Climate?

Comments (29)

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  1. Robert says:

    Wise words, Mike. I’d add one more:

    11. Direct action is not just a means to an end. It’s both the way and the destination. It means freeing yourself from a controlling, dominating, alienating system by taking action to help create the world you dream of.

  2. Roland Stiven says:

    ‘Memes and ends matter’ – very good

  3. Dougie Blackwood says:

    The kids are spot on but will anybody pay attention. Society is all too fixated with the idea that it’s up to somebody else to do something. You should use public transport but I need my gas guzzler.

    We here is Scotland are making reasonable progress in reducing our carbon footprint but this is both still too slow and, in a world scale, ineffective. Trump has withdrawn from the protocol and many other major polluters are ether doing nothing or very little.

    Nothing will change until we have an earth shattering tragedy like San Francisco being consumed in flames or either New York or London being drowned by the rising sea. Even the most likely and earliest catastrophe of Bangladesh sinking and becoming uninhabitable will not be enough to move the goalposts as places like that are ignored.

    1. “Nothing will change until we have an earth shattering tragedy like San Francisco being consumed in flames or either New York or London being drowned by the rising sea.” The problem that the crisis is more slow moving than that, though I’d remind you that ‘Paradise’ did burn to the ground last year.

      “The kids are spot on but will anybody pay attention.” Who is the anybody in this sentence?

      1. Dougie Blackwood says:

        I will pay attention and probably you will too but I cannot change the policy of the large centres of population like USA, China, Brazil or the others that are ignoring the protocol. Can you?

        By the way, I was surprised to learn that India is trying to comply, despite having a lot of catching up to do.

        1. Legerwood says:

          Trump may have withdrawn from the Paris agreement but states such as California and cities such as Pittsburgh, are working to reach the targets set in Paris so the USA is not entirely a lost cause.


          India is well aware of its problems with greenhouse emissions and has been taking steps since the early years of this century to tackle its emissions. It does have to accomplish a balancing act, however, between cutting emissions and at the same time growing the economy in order to lift people out of poverty. Difficult to achieve.

  4. tartanfever says:

    The deniers are dangerous, but they are not the hypocrites. They don’t believe that Climate Change is happening on any great scale or even at all, either out of greed or real belief. Those boundaries are easy to understand, not so much to comprehend.

    However, the real hypocrites are all the governments that signed up to a protocol but will do nothing further. Where are the sanctions against the US for their withdrawl ? Where are the international declarations that outlaw such disastrous uses of fossil fuel ? What actions have been taken against the US by the EU ?

    None – nothing at all. So while we rightly point at the Trump bogeyman, he’s an easy target after all. Where is the criticism of others ?

    Yesterday’s right wing Toby-Young reactions did not bother me – it’s what I expect. What did bother me was the reaction from the ‘liberal sensible people’ – The people, like Ian Dunt who proclaimed on Twitter ‘it almost brought a tear to my eye seeing the kids take action’ in a mostly patronising manner.

    Yes Ian , it should bring a tear to your eye, but not out of some misleading paternal/nostalgic instinct but because it scares the shit out of you.

    In the words of Greta Thunberg:

    ‘Adults keep saying: “We owe it to the young people to give them hope.” But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.’

    Everyone has talked about thousands of young people on the streets protesting. No-one has talked about the actual cause they were protesting for.

  5. Mark Bevis says:

    “Basically if you think we can solve the climate crisis within this economic system, you’re in denial.”

    This may be the biggest stumbling block to enact the changes we need to have a chance that 1 in 7 of the world’s population survive into the 21st Century.
    Even the Democrat’s Ocasio-Cortez and her “Green Deal” will not address the problem, simply because it is using the current economic model. For it to work , we would have to burn even more fossil fuels to replace current usage with renewables equivalence. There simply isn’t enough Lithium in the planet to make all the batteries they’d require for one thing.

    And the population is so indoctrinated with this economic system, that it is going to take radical re-education for them to accept that there might even be possibly an alternative to economics (without being immediately labelled as a communist). Ten years of austerity has bludgeoned into sufficient people the need for an alternative system, but there seems to be no consensus on what that alternative is.

    How to explain to people that:
    no one will own cars.
    No one will fly anywhere on holidays
    electric public transport will be the only mechanical transport available
    most people will live near where they work
    Work for most people will merely by 28 hours a week growing food locally
    There will be no money. There will be no benefits system. There will be no taxation system.
    Energy will be rationed or irregular, to perhaps 4 hours a day.
    Work as a concept will disappear, and ‘Doing’ will become more the norm.
    Everyone will know their neighbours and deal with them on a daily basis.
    Diet will be 99% vegetarian 99% of the time.
    You will all be composting your own piss and shit.
    Individual ownership of land, property, resources will disappear. You’ll own your own bed, cooker, radio/TV, whatever, as now, but a lot of them may have no use.

    6 out of 7 people, if all not 7 out of 7, may well still die despite all this.

    That’s a real green-new-deal.
    Because it’s not just climate change that is the problem.
    Soil degredation and species collapse are far bigger, albeit related, threats.

  6. florian albert says:

    Under the heading, ’10 things we learned from the school strike’, Mike Small includes – as number 3 – ‘civil disobedience is essential’

    First, the strikes. It is not clear how many Scottish pupils participated. The Herald gives the figure of 40 for those demonstating at Holyrood. It seems likely that the total was a few hundred out of a total of about 280,000 state secondary pupils in Scotland; a fraction of one per cent. This is not a particularly impressive figure.
    Further, the idea that you can, from this, consider a campaign of civil disobedience is entirely unrealistic.

    Lastly, many school pupils are as awkward as they are idealistic. What happens when they decide to protest in a way that is not supported by Scotland’s progressive
    left ? Once you have conceded that in principle, ‘strikes’ by pupils are legitimate, pupils – and pupils alone – will decide what constitutes a legitimate reason.

    1. milgram says:

      It was half term holiday in Edinburgh, and other council areas. Can’t say anything meaningful about participation rates because of that.

    2. Interesting Florian – the strikes are very very new here – but the proliferation internationally has been very rapid and very successful.

      If pupils chose to strike on reactionary politics that’s up to them . I see no sign of this happening anywhere. Do you?

      Which of the three forms of climate denial categories would you put yourself in?

      1. florian albert says:

        ‘Which of the three forms of climate denial categories would you put yourself in ?’

        There are a number of topics on which I feel competent to add my tuppenceworth.

        There are other topics – far, far more of them – on which I recognize that even my tuppenceworth would be poor value.

    3. Chris Connolly says:

      I think that perhaps you have just made Mike’s point for him, Florian. There were actually not many kids taking part but the few that did so generated a lot of publicity for their cause. If they had just had a normal day at school no-one would have heard what they had to say and consequently no-one would have been able to respond; the conversation would never have happened, the article would never have been written and we’d not be having this conversation now .

      The power to withdraw your labour (or in this case attendance at lessons) is the best weapon the working class possess; the lack of such a power explains why benefit claimants are always at the sharp end of cuts. If it were not for people taking direct action and for civil disobedience then the Berlin Wall would still be in place and women would still not be allowed to vote. There would be no trade unions or health & safety at work and the people of Glasgow would still be paying rent for the privilege of living in disgusting 19th century tenements.

        1. Jim Bennett says:

          On a slightly lighter note…

          My 13 year old and 3 of her pals were talking about it. The conversation went something like that they would have taken part if they’d not all been on half term. Oh, and it would be much better to strike on a Wednesday so that they would miss double PE.

      1. florian albert says:

        You concede that the demonstration attracted few school pupils and that it attracted publicity mainly due to the novelty value of ‘striking’ pupils being involved.
        This novelty value is a one off and can’t be repeated.
        Two other factors added to the publicity. (1) a number of prominent politicians supported the strike (2) some people protested against these politicians doing so.

        You state correctly that civil disobedience helped bring down the Berlin Wall in 1989. East Germany was a dictatorship. Scotland today is not. People can and do campaign in elections for policies that would – as they see it – lessen the problems caused by climate change; principally this means the Green Party. In the 2016 Scottish Parliament election only 6.6 per cent of voters did so. In 2003, the figure was higher. This suggests that, despite the amount of publicity being given to the topic of climate change, it is not at the top of most voters’ concerns.

        1. florian albert says:

          The comment above was in response to the Chris Connolly’s post.

          1. Chris Connolly says:

            Florian. We only have elections because people took to the streets to demand them. This is how progressive changes begin.

            Climate change is now, because of the kids’ action and the publicity it generated, more of a talking point than it was last week. That’s good news for everyone.

            Your suggestion that only people who vote for the Green Party care about climate change is, well, unsustainable. The Greens are a relatively small Party who lack the resources that other Parties have with which to fight elections. They also have other policies aside from those pertaining to environmental matters, which might not appeal to some voters. Since the Scottish government is a Green/SNP coalition then, in effect, a vote for the SNP is a vote for the Greens and vice versa.

            Many people believe that an independent Scotland is much better placed to take the actions necessary to protect the environment from catastrophe. Once independence is achieved it’s highly likely that a lot of voters who have hitherto voted SNP in order to fight for Scotland’s nationhood will switch to the Greens instead to carry on the vital battle against climate change. I might well do so myself.

            I see no reason why you should think that further action by the schoolkids will go unreported. We’ll see, but I betcha you’re wrong.

            You’ve chosen not to answer Mike’s question about which sort of climate change denier you are, if any. You are entitled to defend yourself against the charge but if you don’t do so then don’t be surprised if we all draw the obvious conclusions.

  7. Ian says:

    Re no8. As an XR member on the front line of Scottish activism, I’d like to mention that our methods are based on successful campaigns like Otpor (NVDA overthrow of Milosovik) and Dreamers USA (won in 2012). We have also learned from failings like Occupy or Iraq War March and historic activism like Civil Rights, Suffragettes. It’s we’ll researched. Feel free to come to a meeting and hear for yourself. You’d be most welcome.

    1. Thanks – I will do – and am fully in support.

      The point of the question:

      “Who is the target of the protest and what do you actually want them to do? ” is this I don’t think this is clear enough in your communications.

  8. SleepingDog says:

    I think that school-age children may be familiar with problem-solving global threats due to the popularity of games like Plague Inc. Evolved (according to Steam’s global achievement figures, 81.1% of players have managed to end the world playing as one kind of pandemic disease or other). They may even pick up valuable life lessons (always wash your hands). There seems to be a lack of climate change games, possibly for the reasons mentioned that there are no mainstream fixes in the way that pandemics can be countered (by massive public health programs, shared scientific knowledge and closable borders). There’s a VR game about saving a reef, but I haven’t played it.

    From the coverage I have seen, it is the clarity, soundness and simplicity of the arguments that stands out for me. Parliament is truly anywhere but Westminster.

  9. florian albert says:

    Chris Connolly

    I think you have a romantic view of demonstrations. The UK has been (just about) a democracy for a century now. In that century, the big social advances have been made via Parliament; the huge expansion of the welfare state, the NHS, decriminalization of homosexuality, abolition of the death penalty, outlawing of racial discrimination – to mention a few.
    What about those who have taken to the streets ? CND, supporters of fox hunting, opponents of the Iraq War. All mobilized hundreds of thousands – in the last case over a million. All failed.
    In the last year, some supporters of Scottish independence seem keen to go down this cul de sac.

    You write that I refused to answer the question about what sort of climate denier I was ‘if any.’
    That is not so. There was no ‘if any’ in the comment made by Mike Small.
    Including ‘if any’ creates a different question; one I was not asked.

  10. Chris Connolly says:

    I remember Florian Albert from the 1966 World Cup. He was Hungary’s centre forward and a very fine player indeed. It’s no tribute to him that his name has been adopted by an armchair critic who would rather indulge in silly games than take part in a grown-up dialogue.

    Presumably “Florian” is off to the Post Office now to pay his Poll Tax on the grounds that, while the rest of us are aware that nationwide protests meant that (a) the Poll Tax was swiftly scrapped and (b) Margaret Thatcher was deposed in the aftermath, he still affects to believe that demonstrating has achieved nothing in the last century.

    1. florian albert says:

      ‘armchair critic’; a fair point, though there are times when an armchair critic is better than armchair cheerleaders.
      I don’t see anything silly in being critical of a policy of civil disobedience. Demonstrations have their role but, in a democratic society, Parliament is vastly more important.
      We should be telling school children how much better it is to live in a democracy such as ours – rather than any likely alternative.

      1. What have you got to say about the crisis they are inheriting “Florian”?

        1. florian albert says:

          I believe in keeping things in proportion.

          There have never been more people alive than today. Their prosperity is astonishing by any historical standards. The percentage of the world’s population living in abject poverty has fallen dramatically since 1980.
          I have lived through a couple of periods of apocalyptic fears; in the 1960s, there was near universal belief in a Malthusian famine particularly in Asia (The Scottish economist Angus Deaton has written a wonderful book – ‘The Great Escape’ – which, amongst other things details how much harm was done to poor people by this scare);
          in the 1970s, it was the Club of Rome report telling us we would run out of raw materials, especially oil, by 2000.
          I think humanity will muddle through. I am less optimistic about Scotland. As a people, we have created a post-industrial society, where a large percentage of the population – despite being, by any historical standard, materially prosperous – feels disengaged/left behind.

          1. So you’ve got absolutely nothing to say about climate change?

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