Millions of school students around the world are striking on September 20 to demand urgent climate action. Why are students ‘striking’ from school? Why should we support them and encourage other adults to do likewise?

“We are temporarily sacrificing our educations to save our futures from dangerous climate change.”

So says the website for Australian students organising to take to the streets on September 20th to demand action on the climate emergency. See also this interview.

They are joining millions of students around the world, and hopefully tens of millions of supportive adults.

This page isn’t about supporting Climate Action generally (we argue for that here), but specifically addresses the reservations that some people may have about encouraging school students to “strike” from school to demand climate action.

You may also remember Ally Neale’s invitation to support the last strike.  Ally is one of our Climate team members, and a student at Macquarie University.

Some Christians feel strongly that we are to be subject to civil authorities, and the rule of law.  They believe that students, like all of us, should use the proper channels to make themselves heard.

Part of the issue is that the strikers feel that because they have no power in the ballot box, and because the Government is refusing to take sufficient action to halt climate change, they must find other ways to make their voices heard.

Women had to find creative ways to be heard as they demanded the right to vote, to economic equality, and to control over their own bodies and destinies.  They continue to be forced to do so in the face of Domestic and Family Violence

Likewise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their allies continue to push for a Voice, for Truth, and a Treaty.  Civil disobedience has a long history in this movement.

Advocates for Asylum Seekers, have resorted, with considerable success, to civil disobedience to force the government to act, and to raise community awareness.

In all of these movements, people have sometimes broken the rules, because the rules were set up to harm them. They break the rules to challenge and change the rules.  Our current rules around Climate Pollution are set up to pass the benefits to wealthy adults, and pass the costs on to all our children, to the poor, and to the other creatures we share God’s beautiful Earth with.

By the time children in primary school are old enough to vote, we will have locked in catastrophic climate change, if we don’t take drastic action to reduce our emissions now.  According to last year’s IPCC special report, we have just over 11 years to have dealt with carbon emissions by achieving a 50% reduction.  Their modelling assumes that emissions peak next year, but Australia’s are still rising.

And of course not all students are children.  With the age of graduation increasingly delayed, some students are legally adults, and many in senior years are of an age which would have fairly recently seen them already in the workforce, where they could have chosen to simply take a day off to fight for their future.

The students are right to demand urgent action, right now.  Sadly, our Government is ignoring the science that they are learning in school, and instead is committed to continuing a fossil-fuel based future.

The strikes are clearly getting attention in a new way.  It is drawing the ire from those who benefit from the current rules, including Andrew Bolt, and our Prime Minister.  

The students would have been more than happy for the adults to get together and act to save their future, so that they could stay in school.  This hasn’t happened.

So now is the time for new mass movement of students, and those of us who have been calling for climate action for decades, to be joined by everyone who wants a future for this planet, and humanity.  

Each of us needs to pray seriously about breaking laws in the hope of creating new, future saving laws.   

Breaking laws is not anarchy, it is the part of the political process which brought about the vote for women, citizenship for Aboriginal people, and safer and fairer work conditions for all, to name a few things.

Breaking the law is central to our Christian tradition.  Followers of Jesus have been doing it, since Jesus.

Breaking the Law was what Jesus did when he healed on the Sabbath, and when he cleared the temple ( Matthew 21:12–17, Mark 11:15–19, Luke 19:45–48, John 2:13–16).  Paul broke the law of circumcision (Galatians 5) to bring liberation to the Gentiles, despite it being the centrepiece of the covenant between God and the Jews (Exodus 17:9-14).

The Apostles declared that they, “must obey God rather than any human authority,” when banned from preaching the gospel (Acts 5).  Interestingly, their non-violent civil disobedience persuaded the authorities to let them continue to act.

Matt Anslow says a lot more about the qualifications around Paul’s teachings on the legitimacy of authority, and what it means to be subject to them in this short piece, and at more length here.

Finally, those who are still hesitant about encouraging students to strike should rest assured that this isn’t what they will be doing.

The students have already decided to go on strike. So what are adult followers of Jesus called to do in response?  Surely at least we might go along to ensure their safety? Volunteer as marshalls if that is needed?  Take water for people. Show hospitality with some snacks? Or even gather in church to pray for them, and for climate action, and let our communities know that we’re doing that?  

What will Christian adults to do catalyse the changes needed in government and industry so that our students can rest assured that the necessary action is being taken, and focus on their studies until they are old enough to take their place in a healthy, sustainable, just workforce which leaves God’s Earth more beautiful than when they inherited it?  


Thoughts from Common Grace member Byron Smith regarding what students learn from attending climate strikes:
I think my daughter learned a huge amount today.

From what I saw and heard, I think that the following teachers ought to be thrilled if their students decided to attend this event:
• Science teachers - the respect shown for the science these students had learned in school was a consistent theme, and some of the speakers and signs articulated important scientific insights into physics and chemistry. More than that, they were connecting the dots between their science lessons and their everyday life and long term life choices.
• English teachers - those public speeches were on the whole outstanding models of public communication in that context.
• History teachers - The signs and speakers successfully demonstrated a good grasp of recent Australian political history, as well as a respect for the deep history of the first peoples of this land.
• Geography teachers - with case studies from a young Aboriginal woman in Walgett and a young woman from a low-lying Pacific island nation (I missed which one), there were some prime examples of how climate impacts shape actual human communities.
• Civics teachers - "This is what democracy looks like" (a popular chant at rallies). Discuss.
• PD/H/PE - The life skills required to travel into the city and navigate large crowds are important steps for teens learning to exercise their growing autonomy in a responsible way.
• French teachers: Many of the chants and more than a few of the signs had liberal scatterings of, um, French.
• Maths teachers - could have had a ball setting a crowd size estimation problem. Not an easy one (see photo here). 

Jason John is the Common Grace Climate Justice Lead Campaigner