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Why are young people revolting and what can we do about it?

School children protesting
Young protesters call for action on climate change at the Cenotaph in Harrogate.

Fire! Fire! What would you do if you thought a building was on fire? Raise the alarm and try to save the building and the people inside, or turn your back and leave it to someone else to sort out?

The young climate strikers in the centre of Harrogate last Friday decided to sound the alarm, not to save a building and its occupants but to save a planet.

A year ago, a 15-year-old girl from Stockholm decided to stop going to school every Friday and instead protest outside the Swedish Parliament about inaction on climate change. Greta Thunberg’s simple action to alert others to the risk we are taking with our planet’s climate has sparked a global movement, with millions of young people protesting on “Friday’s for the Future”.

Last Friday’s sizable gathering at the Harrogate Cenotaph saw adults invited to join with the young people to protest, peacefully about the lack and pace of global climate action.

It’s easy to see why young people who feel that their fears about a viable future are not being heard, would want to take strike action.

Sophie Lee, one of the young demonstrators put it like this “I’m striking because we need to open up our eyes to the severity of the climate crisis”.

However, more direct action is needed not just protests. To offer a 66% chance of keeping global average temperatures below 1.5 degrees of warming we need to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the majority of those reductions need to happen in the next 10 years!

“We need radical change if we are to avoid the 6th mass extinction and the other catastrophic effects that come with a runaway climate”, says Sophie, Harrogate resident and Geography undergraduate.

Harrogate Borough Council and North Yorkshire County Council both committed to a zero carbon target earlier this year, as did the UK Government, and they are now in the process of drawing up plans detailing how this can be achieved.

For the Harrogate District, this means a reduction of 10% in greenhouse gas emissions annually, according to Prof Piers Forster, IPCC report co-author and Zero Carbon Harrogate President, when speaking at the recent Zero Carbon Harrogate “Revolting Children” event, held at Harrogate Ladies’ College.

Prof Forster spoke of the good progress that has been made across the District, with reductions in annual carbon emissions currently running at 2.5% a year but he also highlighted the significant shift needed in all our behaviour, in order to reach the 10% reductions needed.

Chris Wilde, CEO of Yorkshire Energy Systems and Sonja Woodcock from Leeds Food Partnership, speaking at the same event, gave practical advice on how each of us can transition to low carbon in our homes and with our diet.

To reach net zero we will need to absorb the emissions we can’t completely cut out, which means major tree planting projects are also needed. Prof Forster has calculated that the Harrogate District needs to plant between 90 and 150 hectares of new woodland every year, to absorb our share of carbon, which is estimated to be between 66 and 100 ktCO2 per year by 2050.

All credit to our young people for sounding the alarm, but now it’s all hands to the pump to secure a better future for the District.


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