Thousands of students skipped school in Berlin Friday as part of a growing worldwide youth movement demanding faster action against climate change. Carrying signs with slogans such as “I want snow for Christmas” and “The climate is changing, why aren’t we?”, the demonstrators gathered in a park near the capital’s main train station before marching through the government district.
Police estimated the size of the crowd at more than 20,000. Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, who inspired the protests in Germany and elsewhere by staging weekly “school strikes,” headlined the demonstration, joining others at the rally shouting: “What do we want? Climate justice. When do we want it? Now!”
Later, taking the stage in front of the landmark Brandenburg Gate, the 16-year-old told the animated crowd that “older generations have failed tackling the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced.”
“When we say to them we are worried about the future of our civilization, they just pat us on our heads and say everything will be fine, don’t worry,” she said. “But we should worry, we should panic, and by panic I don’t mean running around screaming; by panic I mean stepping out of our comfort zones because when you’re in a crisis you change your behaviour,” she asserted.
Thunberg later met with scientists at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, just outside the German capital. Some 26,000 scientists in German-speaking countries have signed a call in support of the protesting students in recent weeks.
“The young people are right to say that this is about intergenerational justice,” said the Potsdam Institute’s director, Johan Rockstrom. “Science clearly shows that climate action today, or the lack thereof, defines the world our children and grandchildren will have to live in.”
The Berlin rally was one of more than 20 being held around the country. Environment Ministry spokesman Stephan Gabriel Haufe denied that Germany is dragging its feet on climate action, saying the government plans to pass a bill this year laying out new targets for each sector of the economy to reduce its emissions by 2030.
Unless emissions of heat-trapping gases start dropping dramatically, scientists estimate that the protesters will be in their 40s and 50s, maybe even 30s, when the world will reach the dangerous levels of warming that international climate agreements are trying to prevent.