The world’s youth are anxious about climate change. A recent study conducted by the University of Bath asked 10,000 young people aged 16-25 in 10 countries how they felt about climate change and government responses to it. This study is the largest of its kind and found that 60% of youth were felt ‘very worried’ or ‘extremely worried’ about climate change and reported feeling ‘sad’, ‘afraid’, ‘anxious’, ‘angry’ and ‘powerless.’ In addition, 65% of youth felt that their governments were failing them by not responding adequately to the climate crisis. French youth were no exception to this feeling of climate anxiety and governmental disillusionment.
The global youth movement for climate action is most visibly embodied in Greta Thunberg, the nineteen-year-old Climate Activist from Stockholm, Sweden who rose to international prominence in 2018 while staging protests at her school. Her stand has inspired youth climate activists around the world as a part of the “Fridays for Future” movement in which students leave school on Fridays to participate in demonstrations against global warming. Youth for Climate is an outgrowth of that movement based in Belgium and France which describes itself as “a movement of young people who are mobilizing for climate and social justice, the protection of the environment and biodiversity.”
Youth for Climate launched in France in February 2019 by organizing weekly demonstrations for climate action. The movement was first organized out of Sorbonne University in Paris where students staged weekly demonstrations each Friday and addressed their concerns to the French government. The first school strikes demonstrated before the Ministry of Ecology and successfully demanded an audience with President Macron. Since then, Youth for Climate and other student movements in France have organized recycling programs at their schools, boycotted unsustainable fashion brands, and redesigned lunch menus to serve less meat and more local foods.
The movement held several National Conferences over the course of 2019 where they debated divergent ideas about their identity and strategy. In particular, the movement debated different approaches to activism including non-violent mass mobilization and civil disobedience versus direct action such as property damage. Proponents of direct action within the movement were identified increasingly as anti-capitalist proponents of degrowth which emphasizes the need to reduce global consumption and production to foster a socially just and ecologically sustainable society. Such a society, they argue, measures prosperity not in GDP but by indicators of social and environmental well-being. Over the course of 2020 and 2021, youth climate activists in France participated in a wider range of ‘direct actions’ including blockades of shopping centers and affixing warning labels to unsustainably produced products and services.
The recent French presidential elections became a flashpoint for environmental action when, during the campaign, over one hundred local collectives and fifteen national organizations designated April 26, 2022 a day of climate action. Thousands of activists organized over thirty events across the country to protest government backing of pollution-intensive building projects such as highways, airport extensions and shopping malls over the past five-year political term. The day of action, referred to as Retour sur Terres or “Return to Land” took aim in particular at the Ministry of Ecology for its inaction and unfulfilled promises on climate change.
Interviews with youth climate activists in France emphasize the long tradition of climate activism in which they operate, as well as their unique generational experience and perspective. While many French youth activists are proud to build on thirty years of climate activism, they argue that their experience is unique as a generation of young adults who have always lived with the impacts of climate change. Youth activists today were born into a world of extreme weather events, information about which is more widely shared through social media networks than ever before. As one youth climate activist bluntly described their situation, “I want to be alive in 50 years.”
This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard France Country Manager Liana Mehring
Learn More Resources
Marks, Elizabeth and Hickman, Caroline and Pihkala, Panu and Clayton, Susan and Lewandowski, Eric R. and Mayall, Elouise E. and Wray, Britt and Mellor, Catriona and van Susteren, Lise, Young People’s Voices on Climate Anxiety, Government Betrayal and Moral Injury: A Global Phenomenon. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3918955 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3918955