Activists around the world are set to occupy schools and universities this autumn in protest against the fossil fuel economy
Last week, a legion of young climate activists announced their intention to occupy schools around the world later this year, in a bid to pressure policymakers into doing more to combat the climate crisis.
The group co-signed an op-ed published by the Guardian, announcing the launch of their new campaign ‘End Fossil: Occupy!’ which demands an end to the fossil economy. The op-ed was signed by students from countries including Portugal, Spain, Argentina, the US, Ivory Coast, and the UK.
“Taking a lesson from student activists in the 1960s, the climate justice movement’s youth will shut down business as usual,” the activists wrote. “Not because we don’t like learning, but because what we’ve learned already makes it clear that, without a dramatic break from this system, we cannot ensure a livable planet for our presents and futures.”
The activists plan to occupy hundreds of educational institutions across the world between September and December 2022. They’re focused on demanding the end of fossil fuel extraction and are centring the occupations on three principles: the occupations should be organised by the youth; the political framework behind the occupations is that of climate justice through a socially just process, and the intention is to disrupt the normal functioning of society until demands are met.
“We can't keep pretending everything is all right, studying as if the planet wasn't on fire,” the group wrote. “As other students did before us — from the students of May of '68 in France to the Arab spring, from the Chilean Penguin Revolution and Primavera Secundarista in Brazil to Occupy Wall Street — we will stop our business-as-usual lives to show our governments and society that we need to change everything, now.”
The youth climate justice movement rapidly gained momentum in September 2019, with an estimated four million people participating in global climate strikes inspired by Swedish campaigner Greta Thunberg. Momentum slowed over the pandemic, but as we emerge out of lockdown, young people are keen to mobilise for climate justice once more.
We spoke to three organisers ahead of their action this autumn.
When are you planning to occupy schools and universities, and why?
Bramley, 22, Leeds: Our schools, colleges and unis are barely acknowledging the urgency of the climate and ecological crisis. Meanwhile, our government bumbles on in self-annihilation, subsidising fossil fuels and planning 40 new oil and gas fields in the North Sea. We refuse to go along with business as usual.
Youth have always been at the heart of social change. Three years on from the school strikes, it's time to escalate. The impact they had was immeasurable – they made headlines because there were kids who'd never been to a protest in their lives saying: we don't have all the answers, but we know that being obedient and going to school day after day is going to kill us.
Konrad, 21, Nuremberg: If you just look around the world right now, there are climate catastrophes happening every day, with wildfires and extreme heat and droughts. Especially in the Global South, but also in the Global North, people are dying – right now.
We’re seeing a massive failure of the political system and capitalism, neither of which are doing anything to address the issue because emissions just keep rising. Energy companies make billions of dollars of profit, but normal people are really struggling because of the rising prices of oil and gas. So I think we’re seeing that something is seriously wrong in society. Look around: this is clearly not working. We need to do something.
“We want to reignite the spirit that we had in 2019 when the climate strikes started, but we want to do it on a more radical level. It’s like the climate strike 2.0” – Konrad
This is a global effort, with youth activists all across the world - how are you managing to coordinate?
Konrad: The internet! It’s really amazing what you can do on the internet. Some activists from Portugal made this call out, saying “hey, we want to occupy schools and universities”, and sent it to other activists from different countries, and now it’s growing and growing and growing. It seems like all around the world people have been thinking about occupying schools and universities for climate action for a long time.
Bramley: We have occupations planned from Portugal to Ivory Coast to Canada to Colombia. The demands of each country are decentralised, but we're holding international calls and sharing our knowledge from previous occupations so that schoolkids and students who've never done one before can get the confidence to start planning and get others on board!
Alice, 20, Lisbon: International coordination is really important for us in Portugal as we are a small country. We also know that to tackle the climate crisis we need to do it internationally, so we’re spreading the word to as many people, countries and groups as possible. The idea is that these occupations can be easily recreated.
What are your aims?
Bramley: We have two aims: demand intervention from the UK Government to end the fossil economy with a just transition and bring youth together to repurpose our schools, colleges and unis into spaces for true learning, reconnection, mobilisation and action. We're going to work with our overworked, underpaid and underappreciated staff to multiply the impact we have.
Alice: We demand that the government end the use and importation of fossil fuels by 2030. Our second demand is for the government to kick out the fossil fuel [advocates] from government – for example, our minister of the economy, Antonio Costa Silva, is a former director of an oil company called Partex.
Konrad: We also want to send a message to people which says “OK, we can actually do something when many people are involved.” We want to reignite the spirit that we had in 2019 when the climate strikes started, but we want to do it on a more radical level. It’s like the climate strike 2.0.
How do you stay hopeful?
Alice: I stay hopeful by knowing that we have a deadline: we need to smash the fossil fuel industry by 2030. We cannot choose the time we are living in but we have the responsibility to act. We as students – we as a society – have the responsibility to tackle the climate crisis, because no one else is going to do it for us. So we stay hopeful by reinventing our strategies, reinventing ourselves, reinventing our activism and our militancy, and just keeping on building coordination to smash fossil fuels and achieve climate justice.
Bramley: By building our best intersectional climate justice movement. Politicians and companies are not going to save us so we've got to do it ourselves. I've met my best friends through activism and been empowered to do things I never thought I'd be able to do – I can't wait to see another generation of youth emboldened and bringing their joy and creativity to this fight.
Konrad: I don’t have any hope in the system – corporations, governments, politicians. They will not do anything to stop the climate crisis or address poverty or anything like that. But I have a lot of hope in normal people. When we look back in history and see where big changes happened, it was always when a lot of ordinary people from different backgrounds came together. Big changes can happen really fast if people fight for them.