- An estimated 1.5 million students in more than 120 countries came out to protest the lack of action politicians have taken to mitigate climate change.
- The movement, known as Friday For Future, was started by a 16-year-old Swedish girl named Greta Thunberg.
- The protests were almost entirely student-led, and mark one of the biggest environmental demonstrations ever.
Kids Climate Strike
Students all over the world skipped school on Friday to protest for stronger climate change policies during a kids “climate strike.”
The strike is already being described as one of the largest environmental demonstrations ever. More than 2,000 protests were held in over 120 countries, with general estimates saying that nearly 1.5 million people came out to protest worldwide.
The highly organized protests were lead almost entirely by teenagers who believe politicians need to do more to address climate change at an international level.
Several of the young leaders of the protest published an article in The Guardian about their movement and why they are striking. In the article, they kep repeating the line: “This movement had to happen, we didn’t have a choice.”
The leaders cite a report published by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) back in October. The report argued that the planet would warm by over 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) without coordinated international policies to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
It also stated that the impacts of that temperature increase could be much more devastating than previous studies had shown.
Most significantly, the IPCC report said that the international community needed to curb emissions by 2030, or risk runaway warming.
The students who came out to protest have already seen these impacts in their homes and all over the world.
One of the main themes of the protest was the fact that the students feel like their future is in the hands of adults who are not doing enough to stop climate change.
In the article, the leaders write: “If those in power today don’t act, it will be our generation who will live through their failure.”
The fact that they chose to do this on a school day rather than a weekend is also important because the students believe that skipping school to strike proves a powerful point.
According to the website for the strike:
“School children are required to attend school. But with the worsening Climate Destruction this goal of going to school begins to be pointless. Why study for a future, which may not be there? Why spend a lot of effort to become educated, when our governments are not listening to the educated?”
The leaders also reiterated this point in their article, writing: “We think organising against an existential threat – and figuring out how to make our voices heard – is teaching us some important lessons.”
They continue later, “We strongly believe that we can fight off the most damaging effects of climate change – but we have to act now.”
Friday for Future
Given the sheer size of the demonstrations, many have wondered how a protest of this magnitude came about.
It all started back in August, when 15-year-old Greta Thunberg sat in front of the Swedish parliament to protest the lack of action being taken to address climate change. Thunberg sat in front of parliament every school day for three weeks.
She also posted what she was doing on Instagram and Twitter, and eventually, she started to go viral.
Then in September, Thunberg decided that she would continue striking every Friday until Sweden implements policies that would lower climate change by 2 degrees Celsius.
Thunberg continued to post pictures on social media using the hashtags #FridaysForFuture and #Climatestrike.
Those hashtags spread so much that many students began to protest outside of their parliaments and city halls all over the world, effectively starting the Fridays For Future movement.
According to the Fridays For Future website, it is: “A peoples movement following the call from @GretaThunberg to school strike.”
The website also provides materials on how to strike, links to social media accounts, and contact information for affiliated strikes all around the world.
Not only has Thunberg inspired a worldwide environmental movement, she has also found a place for herself.
In an interview with the New York Times, Thunberg said: “All my life I’ve been invisible, the invisible girl in the back who doesn’t say anything.”
She also discussed dealing with clinical depression as a child that was so severe she stopped eating, growing, and going to school. On her Twitter account, she writes in her bio that she has Aspbergers.
Thunberg told the Times that she was inspired to take action after learning about the effects of climate change in school, saying: “I became very affected. I began thinking about it all the time and I became very sad […] Those pictures were stuck in my head.”
Now, what started as a one-woman protest has become a global movement, and Thunberg has been championed as its leader.
However, her activism does not just begin and end with the student’s strikes.
In November, Thunberg gave a TED talk on climate action at TEDxStockholm
Back in December, she attended a United Nations climate conference, where she criticized negotiators and said: “You are not mature enough to tell it like it is […] Even that burden you leave to us children.”
In January, she attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where she told a group of wealthy elites they made “unimaginable amounts of money” at the expense of the planet’s future.
On Thursday, a group of Norwegian lawmakers nominated Thunberg for the Nobel Peace Prize.
In her own words, Thunberg told the Times: “I’m happier now […] I have meaning. I have something I have to do.”
Debate & Response
Thunberg’s movement seems highly organized, and it is clear it is gaining traction.
However, there are still some who believe it is pointless for students to skip school to protest.
In February, the office of British Prime Minister Theresa May said that the school strikes in Britain were a distraction that “wastes lesson time.”
Thunberg responded on Twitter, writing “political leaders have wasted 30 yrs of inaction. And that is slightly worse.”
Meanwhile, others like Leonardo DiCaprio, have expressed support for the movement, writing in a Tweet: “I stand in solidarity with those who participated in yesterday’s youth organized climate strike.”
See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (The New York Times) (National Geographic)
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro Criticized for Inaction Over Amazon Forest Fires
- Social media users are using #PrayforAmazonia to bring attention to fires in the Amazon forest that have been burning for three weeks.
- Many blame Brazillian President Jair Bolsonaro for failing to take action to address the issue, while some argue that his pro-deforestation policies are what lead to the fires in the first place.
- Since taking office in January, Bolsonaro has massively ramped up deforestation of the Amazon by rolling back protections and increasing access for agriculture and mining.
#PrayforAmazonia Trends on Twitter
Twitter users are criticizing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for his failure to stop a series of forest fires that have been tearing through the Amazon forest for the last three weeks
On Tuesday morning, “Amazon rainforest” and “#PrayforAmazonia” trended on Twitter. “Amazon rainforest is burning… And Bolsonaro is deliberately doing nothing,” one user wrote.
“This is the Brazilian environmental policy under president Bolsonaro,” another user wrote above pictures of fires. “The Amazon Rainforest’s burning for about 3 weeks and nothing’s been done.”
Other people noted the Amazon has been burning for weeks but that they were just learning about it now.
Some also pointed out the lack of media coverage on the fires.
Amazon Rainforest Fires
Currently, there are numerous fires in multiple states that are basically burning down the Amazon rainforest totally unchecked.
Last week, NASA released satellite images of a massive smoke layer covering a huge part of the forest. One NASA researcher told reporters that the smoke layer spanned about 1.2 million square miles, which is about one-third of the United States.
The smoke has continued to spread, endangering the health of people and animals living in the area, according to local reports. The air quality has gotten so bad in some areas, that about two weeks ago, the state of Amazonas declared a state of emergency.
On Monday, people in São Paulo, which is on the other side of the country from the Amazon, shared pictures of the sky turning black in the middle of the afternoon, which multiple scientists have attributed to the smoke from the fires.
Cause of the Fires
Numerous experts have said that the fires are caused by humans and there are several pieces of evidence to back that up.
First, the Amazon rainforest is comparatively fire-resistant because it is so wet and humid. While there are often fires this time of year, they are usually caused by extreme droughts.
Despite the fact that fire outbreaks rose by 70% this year compared to 2018, there have not been any extreme weather events that would cause this amount of fires.
Second, fire is actually used in the Amazon as an agricultural technique to clear land for planting crops. The technique, called “slash and burn,” is also one of the major methods used in the Amazon for illegal deforestation.
Since Bolsonaro took office in January, deforestation has rapidly increased.
According to satellite data from the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE), deforestation in the Amazon increased by around 245% in July 2019 compared to July 2018.
According to The Guardian, that’s the same as destroying three football fields worth of forest every minute.
Despite the fact that the data came from satellite images, Bolsonaro has described it as “fake news.” After the INPE reported those numbers, Bolsonaro fired the head of that agency.
“The numbers, as I understand it, were released with the objective of harming the name of Brazil and its government,” Bolsonaro told reporters earlier this month.
As many have pointed out, Bolsonaro campaigned on opening up the Amazon to resource extraction. Since taking office, he has made it a key component of his economic policy.
Until Bolsonaro’s election, protecting the Amazon has been at the core of Brazilian environmental policy for the last two decades.
With the help of powerful lobbyists, he has rolled back environmental protections and ratcheted up access to mining and agriculture by clearing huge sections of forest.
Many of the areas that Bolsonaro has opened up to agriculture and mining are protected indigenous lands, which the president has said are too big for the number of people who live there.
According to BBC, more than 800,000 indigenous people live in 450 demarcated territories which cover about 12% of land across the country. Most of those territories are in the Amazon region, and some are entirely isolated.
This strategy has endangered both the indigenous populations and the forest itself, especially as it is widely believed among experts and scientists that protecting indigenous lands is one of the best strategies to conserve forests.
This is especially important for the Amazon because the Amazon basin is absolutely critical to stabilizing the global climate.
The entire basin spans about three million square miles and includes 40% of the world’s tropical forests, 20% of its freshwater, and produces 20% of the air we breathe, according to a report by Foreign Policy.
It also has many keystone ecosystems which are crucial to global biodiversity. The importance of the Amazon cannot be understated.
Around 60% of the Amazon forest is in Brazil, a country where a number of top officials in the government do not even believe climate change is real.
Those officials are convinced any criticisms of Bolsonaro’s policies as harmful to the environment are propagated by civil society groups and foreign governments who are trying to sabotage the administration.
Bolsonaro, for his part, has largely expressed disinterest in the environment.
When asked by a reporter last week about whether Brazil can grow more food and protect the environment at the same time, Bolsonaro responded, “It’s enough to eat a little less. You talk about environmental pollution. It’s enough to poop every other day. That will be better for the whole world.”
See what others are saying: (Newsweek) (Foreign Policy) (The New York Times)
China Ramps Up Propaganda Against Hong Kong Protests
- China is ramping up its propaganda campaign against the Hong Kong protests.
- These efforts include buying anti-protest ads on Twitter and Facebook, both of which are banned in China, as part of an effort to disperse misinformation to the international community.
- China has also moved thousands of troops to their border with Hong Kong to conduct public military exercises that many believe are meant to intimidate protestors in Hong Kong.
- On Sunday, hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators took to the streets of Hong Kong in one of the biggest peaceful marches seen in the city since the protests first began 11 weeks ago.
Mainland China has ratcheted up its efforts against the protestors in Hong Kong following several violent instances during protests at Hong Kong’s airport last week.
Last Monday, thousands of protestors flooded the Hong Kong airport, causing officials to cancel all flights. Limited flights resumed Tuesday and protestors began trying to block passengers from boarding planes.
The situation escalated after a group of demonstrators essentially held two men from mainland China hostage. The protestors reportedly believed one of the men was an undercover police officer, even though they had no confirmation of his identity or employment.
The other man who was seized by protestors has been confirmed as a journalist for the Chinese newspaper the Global Times. It was also reported that at one point, a group of demonstrators overwhelmed a police officer and beat him with his own baton.
These instances prompted police to violently crackdown on the protestors Tuesday night, using pepper spray and batons to disperse the demonstrators.
Flights resumed normally on Wednesday after airport authorities filed a court order to limit the protests.
Amid the protests at the airport, mainland China has significantly stepped up its misinformation and anti-protest propaganda campaign.
While China’s state media has always portrayed the Hong Kong protests in a negative light, they have recently increased their efforts to villainize the protestors.
In general, the Chinese media have portrayed the protestors as a small group of bad actors who engage in extremely violent demonstrations.
The official narrative in China is that the demonstrations have been planned and incited by foreign forces, including U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and the CIA, who the Chinese government claim pay the protestors to engage in activities that are not supported by residents of Hong Kong.
That narrative obviously contrasts greatly with the fact that the protests are part of popular demonstration movement that at times has prompted two million people— nearly one-third of Hong Kong’s population— to take to the streets.
The Chinese media has also said the protestors in Hong Kong are calling for independence from China, which threatens the mainland’s sovereignty. However, as many have noted, none of the protestors’ demands include independence from China.
The Chinese media has also manipulated pictures and videos of protestors to make them seem more violent. In one recent example, a video showed a protester with a toy Airsoft weapon used in a paintball-like game that’s popular in Hong Kong.
The state-run newspaper the China Daily circulated that video, claiming it was evidence that the protesters had taken up arms and saying the toy was a grenade launcher used by the U.S. Army.
Over the weekend, it was reported that China’s largest state-run news agency, Xinhua News, bought ads on Facebook and Twitter to smear the protestors. Both Facebook and Twitter are banned in China, so the ads seem to be an attempt to influence the outside world to China’s favor.
One of the ads run on Facebook indicates that the violence from the protests is hurting Hong Kong’s economy, and goes on to say, “Calls are mounting for immediate actions to restore order.”
Another ad on Twitter also pushed the idea that everyone in Hong Kong wants “order,” claiming, “All walks of life in Hong Kong called for a brake to be put on the blatant violence and for order to be restored.”
Twitter addressed the misinformation campaign in a Twitter Safety blog post on Monday.
In the post, Twitter said they found “a significant state-backed information operation focused on the situation in Hong Kong.”
According to the post, Twitter located 936 accounts “originating from within” China that were “deliberately and specifically attempting to sow political discord in Hong Kong, including undermining the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement on the ground.”
The post went on to say that Twitter had suspended all of the accounts for violating their platform manipulation policies, but also noted that those accounts were only the most active parts of the misinformation campaign, which they said consisted of around 200,000 accounts.
Propaganda is only one of the methods China is using to put pressure on Hong Kong.
Beijing has recently moved thousands of paramilitary troops to mainland China’s border with Hong Kong.
Those forces have since been seen running very public military exercises over the last week or so, and many experts have said it is a reminder to Hong Kong that the mainland has not ruled out the use of force.
The combination of the violence at the airport and the rising threat from mainland China caused many protest leaders worried that the actions taken by a few demonstrators would deter others from continuing to protest.
The opposite appeared to be true on Sunday, when hundreds of thousands of protestors demonstrated in the rain for one of the biggest peaceful protests in weeks. Protest organizers estimated that around 1.7 million people came out, while the police claim the number is closer to 128,000.
Despite the fact that the authorities had not given the protestors permission for the march, it still remained peaceful.
Police presence was limited, and the officers who were present did not try to stop the protestors. The protestors themselves encouraged each other to avoid confrontations.
Sunday’s massive protest seemed to indicate that the people of Hong Kong are not backing down, even amid what many have described as unprecedented use of force by police and escalating threats from mainland China.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (Gizmodo)
Tlaib Will Not Visit West Bank After Israel Reverses Travel Restriction Against Her
- Rep. Rashida Tlaib announced that she will not go see her family in the West Bank after Israel rescinded a previous travel restriction they had placed on her.
- That restriction, announced by Israel on Thursday, blocked Tlaib and Rep. Ilham Omar from visiting Israel on a scheduled trip due to their support of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement.
- Tlaib, who had planned to visit her grandmother during the visit, appealed the decision on humanitarian grounds and was granted her request to see her family after promising that she would not promote the boycotts against Israel on her trip.
- Tlaib ultimately decided not to go to Israel, writing on Twitter, “I have decided that visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in.”
Israel Reverses Restriction
Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) said Friday she will not visit her family in the West Bank hours after Israel reversed a decision made the day before to block her from entering the country.
On Thursday, Israel announced it would bar Tlaib and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) from visiting the country during a planned trip because of their support for the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
Israeli officials had originally said they would allow the two congresswomen to visit on their trip, which was set to start Sunday.
They later backtracked after President Donald Trump prompted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to block the two women from entering.
Tlaib had also planned to visit her grandmother and other family members who live in the West Bank.
Tlaib’s Letter & Statement
Following Israel’s announcement Thursday, Tlaib wrote a letter to Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri to appeal the decision.
“I would like to request admittance to Israel in order to visit my relatives, and specifically my grandmother, who is in her 90s,” Tlaib wrote. “This could be my last opportunity to see her. I will respect any restrictions and will not promote boycotts against Israel during my visit.”
Deri agreed on Friday to grant Tlaib’s request on humanitarian grounds, but shortly after, Tliab announced that she would be canceling her trip to the West Bank.
“The Israeli government used my love and desire to see my grandmother to silence me and made my ability to do so contingent upon my signing a letter,” Tlaib wrote in a statement. “I have therefore decided to not travel to Palestine and Israel at this time.”
“When I won the election to become a United States Congresswoman, many Palestinians, especially my grandmother, felt a sense of hope, a hope that they would finally have a voice,” she continued.
“I cannot allow the Israeli government to take that away from them or to use my deep desire to see my grandmother, potentially for the last time, as a political bargaining chip.”
Tlaib also echoed parts of her statement in a post on Twitter. Referring to her grandmother, Tlaib wrote, “Silencing me & treating me like a criminal is not what she wants for me.”
“I have decided that visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in–fighting against racism, oppression & injustice,” she continued.
A Complicated Double-Bind
Israeli Interior Minister Deri reacted strongly to Tlaib’s decision.
“I approved her request as a gesture of goodwill on a humanitarian basis, but it was just a provocative request, aimed at bashing the State of Israel,” he wrote in a tweet. “Apparently her hate for Israel overcomes her love for her grandmother.”<
I approved her request as a gesture of goodwill on a humanitarian basis, but it was just a provocative request, aimed at bashing the State of Israel. Apparently her hate for Israel overcomes her love for her grandmother.@realDonaldTrump @RashidaTlaib— אריה מכלוף דרעי (@ariyederi) August 16, 2019
However, others have argued that the situation is more nuanced. Nour Odeh, who had helped plan Tlaib’s trip, told NPR that Tlaib’s decision reflects a broader conflict many Palestinians face.
“Palestinians of all walks of life are put in the impossible situation of having to choose between championing their principles, between defending their cause for freedom, between speaking their mind — and enjoying the basic humanitarian conditions that everybody is entitled to, including having access to their families,” Odeh said.
Tlaib’s Family Responds
Members of Tlaib’s family who spoke to U.S. journalists made similar points. The congresswoman’s uncle, Bassem Tlaib, who lives in the West Bank, told NPR that his village had been preparing for her arrival.
“We have mixed feelings now; we’re happy she didn’t accept the Israeli demands but we’ll miss her,” he said. “Israel does not want us to show our allies in the US how the Israeli occupation treats us. They want our lives to be a secret.”
Tlaib’s grandmother, Muftiyah Tlaib, also told the Washington Post that while she did not understand why her granddaughter could not come visit her, she was still proud of her.
“Who wouldn’t be proud of a granddaughter like that?” she said. “I love her and am so proud of her.”
She told the Post that the planned visit would have been the first time the two have seen each other since around 2007.
“My family and I have cried together throughout this ordeal; they’ve promised to keep my grandmother alive until I can one day reunite with her,” Tlaib said in her statement.
“It is with their strength and heart that I reiterate I am a duly elected United States Congresswoman and I will not allow the Israeli government to humiliate me and my family or take away our right to speak out.”