Students protesting worldwide for a call to action on climate change

School children march in Wellington, New Zealand, calling for action to address climate change.

(CNN/Meredith) -- Tens of thousands of students worldwide are walking out of class Friday and piling into the streets, demanding that world leaders take action on a threat to their survival -- climate change.

In a movement spanning more than 100 countries and more than 1,500 cities and towns, students are going on strike.

Students are asking tough questions. Why study for a future, which may not be there? Why work hard to become educated, when our governments are not listening to the educated?

Every year of their lives has been one of the warmest recorded. Extreme weather events, including floods, wildfires and heat waves, are becoming the new norm. Many believe that, if nothing is done to stop global warming, their generation will be left to deal with catastrophic consequences.

Friday's school strike could be one of the largest environmental protests in history. In the US, a national strike is planned in Washington, D.C., along with strikes in nearly 50 states.

The global climate strikes kicked off Friday in Australia and New Zealand, where there was no shortage of chants and signs. Hoisting signs that read "Change the politics. Not the climate." and "Don't be fossil fooled," they marched in front of government buildings.

But not everyone is on board with students skipping class to demonstrate.

Some have dismissed the students as naive or misguided. A spokesperson for UK Prime Minister Theresa May criticized student protests in February, saying that striking "increases teachers' workloads and wastes lesson time," adding that kids should be in school training to be scientists and engineers so that they can tackle the problem. That same month, an Australian education minister warned students and teachers that they would be punished if they went on strike during school hours.

How it began

The global climate strike is an offshoot of the #FridaysForFuture movement, which has been active for months.

It began with Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old environmental activist, who in August 2018 started skipping school on Fridays to protest outside Sweden's parliament.

She roasted the global elite at the World Economic Forum by telling them they were to blame for the climate crisis. Before that, she delivered a damning speech at the United Nations' climate conference COP24, telling climate negotiators they weren't "mature enough to tell it like it is."

Her protests have inspired thousands of young people around the world. Students in countries including Australia, Thailand, Uganda and the United Kingdom have already skipped school to demand that their governments act against climate change.

"Everyone is welcome. Everyone is needed. Let's change history. And let's never stop for as long as it takes," Thunberg tweeted.

Why they're striking

Young climate activists are hoping to spark a widespread dialogue about climate change, following in the footsteps of their peers in Parkland, Florida, who led a national conversation about gun control after a mass shooting at their school.

And they're concerned about the inaction on this front.

World leaders only have 11 more years to avoid disastrous levels of global warming, according to a 2018 report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

If human-generated greenhouse gas emissions continue at the current rate, the planet will reach 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels as soon as 2030. That threshold is critical.

Global warming at that temperature would put the planet at a greater risk of events like extreme drought, wildfires, floods and food shortages for hundreds of millions of people, according to the IPCC report.

The common demand among students, although they vary country-to-country, is for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Here's what that agenda includes for kids in the US, according to the Youth Climate Strike website:

  • a national embrace of the Green New Deal
  • an end to fossil fuel infrastructure projects
  • a national emergency declaration on climate change
  • mandatory education on climate change and its effects from K-8
  • a clean water supply
  • preservation of public lands and wildlife
  • all government decisions to be tied to scientific research

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