It was a Friday of August 2018. The people of Stockholm saw a little girl sitting outside the Riksdagen, the Swedish Parliament, holding a hand-painted banner with "skolstrejk för klimatet" or "school strike for climate" written over it.
Days and months passed by and the picture was the same. Her mother Malena Ernman, a famous opera singer in Sweden, and her father Svante Thunberg, named after the Nobel prize-winning scientist Svante Arrhenius who in 1896 first calculated how carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions caused the greenhouse effect, tried to dissuade her. Even her classmates declined to join her. It was a lone protest!
However, when she reached near the Riksdagen on March 15, 2019 (as she had been doing for almost every Friday in rain, sun, ice or snow), instead of loneliness, something else was waiting for her. Little did she know back then that her banner had been translated into a number of languages across the world and that her humble gesture of protest had turned into one of the biggest environmental protests the world has ever seen. This marked the beginning of the global protests called the "FridaysForFuture" or the "FFF" movement.
Responding to her call, thousands of children from at least 112 countries skipped school demanding their leaders to take action against climate change. In India students from major cities like New Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bengaluru came together demanding substantial action from leaders.
Rest, as the cliché goes, is history. On May 13, 2019, meteorologist and columnist Eric Holthaus announced that the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) had for the first time breached 415 parts per million (PPM). On March 15, our world got one of the most prominent names in the fight against climate change—Greta Thunberg!
The reading was taken on May 12, 2019 at Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. In other words, the levels were far higher than at any point in the last 800,000 years!
The global consumption of fossil fuels, the primary source of CO2 emissions, had gone up by 78 per cent in the last three decades. And thanks to the uninterrupted fossil fuel burning, CO2 levels had gone beyond 415 PPM.
The world was already 1°C warmer than the pre-industrial levels and the continuous rise was having devastating effects. The impact of a 2°C warmer India, as compared to pre-industrial levels, was also being felt across the country. In 2016, the number of major extreme weather events went up to 13 from eight in 1992. Even Cyclone Fani, the tropical cyclone to cause large-scale destruction in Odisha, became unpredictable because of climate change. The India Meteorological Department had to revise its prediction nine times. This was primarily due to the changing wind systems that are influenced by warming oceans.
The most urgent task ahead of our leaders and governments is perhaps to listen to these young climate change activists, who are all products of a world grappling with climate change and its impact.
Dear policymakers, are you listening?