School Climate Strike: The biggest challenge is to make democracy work


I was barely 12 years old and living in my home country of Iran when I joined my first ever school protest.

The protest was in solidarity with the revolutionaries who were calling for democracy and an end to the authoritarian rule of the Shah but it quickly fizzled out when a military tank rolled in front of the school gate and teargas was fired inside the schoolyard.

Fortunately, no one was injured but in the course of the revolution many protestors were brutally oppressed through arrest, torture and even murder.

Almost 40 years on, I find myself urging my 16-year-old son to join his first ever school march, knowing that climate change is more of a grave cause than freedom and democracy.

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Of course we are immensely lucky to live in a democratic country that allows us to exercise our right to protest but we also need to recognize that, as the philosophy professor AC Grayling puts it, “short-termism and self-interest are the endemic weaknesses of both democracies and people who live in them”.

Grayling argues that our democratic system can, at times, be inefficient to the point of ineffectiveness.

He is right of course.

Unlike tyrants, political leaders in a democracy have to consider the wishes of their constituents who often prefer to bury their heads in the sand than being overly burdened with harsh but necessary sacrifices needed to tackle climate change.

“Democracy, accordingly, is not a natural ally of the tough measures required to combat climate change”, Grayling posits.

We see this clearly playing out in our own politics today.

Our vote-chasing politicians are unlikely to implement the full recommendations of the Tax Working Group because they fear their constituents would not accept the pain of extra environmental taxes as a necessary sacrifice to meaningfully impact the most critical issue of our time.

This is not surprising of course as our entire political and economic system is designed to encourage us to compete to secure our own interests and yet climate-change requires us to cooperate at an individual and global scale.

So the challenge for my son and other students joining climate change protests around the world is how to preserve important democratic values at the same time as challenging the entire political and economic system that, due to its inherent short-termism, is threatening their future.

The Iranian revolution did not turn out for the best but it did teach me that people working together could affect major change.

I am encouraging my son to miss a day at school because learning how to goad politicians and corporations to act is a very useful education in itself and possibly the only effective method to fight the climate change.

Those who believe the school climate strike is a meaningless action that is unlikely to change anything, need to consider the number of media articles and debates the climate school strike has generated so far. This level of media coverage is exactly what we need to push this important issue to the forefront of our collective consciousness.

This is important because without a shared belief that climate change is an existential threat to us all, we won’t be able to bring about the changes necessary to combat it.




  1. They are not on strike. A strike is when workers remove their services

    Teachers go on strike. Students boycott

    Basic English

  2. Who cares the language the principals are right there will be no planet.
    I will be there in Otautahi supporting the students, with my 6 year old grandson who says ‘we need the government to change the weather’!

    No well else has stood up too busy making money I suppose.

  3. Meh!

    Global temperature last year was lower than it was in 1998.

    There has been no warming this century.

    If you don’t believe me, then google:

    “UAH satellite-based temperature of the global lower atmosphere”

    My main concern for the future is the mental health of radical greens when no warming occurs.

  4. my 16 year old dog was making funny noises during that time when we had that hot air came over from Aus when many of us couldn’t sleep.
    ‘He said its getting hot in hair’ even he knows it getting too hot how come some people don’t.

  5. ‘The biggest challenge is to make democracy work’

    Sadly, the faux democracy we endure was appropriated long ago by banks, corporations and opportunists.

    I attended the local strike’ event and was pleasantly surprised by the number of young people there.

    However, I was disgusted to see a politician make a speech in which he pretended to support the youngster’s agenda of taking climate change seriously whilst actually promoting the destruction of those youngsters futures. When tackled on the matter that politician did what he usually does -ran as fast as he could, not wanting to engage in anything connected with reality.

    That same politician, having spent his time in office promoting planetary meltdown via business-as-usual and today having pretended to be concerned about climate change and its dire repercussions, will return to parliament next week and will promote planetary meltdown via business-as-usual. He has repeatedly demonstrated what a Little man he is.

    Thus we see that when it comes to the crunch, the majority of politicians have proven themselves to be mendacious, hypocritical cowards.

    • Democracy won’t happen while money is a part of elections and MSM are controlled by business interests.

  6. Ms Mills,

    I was not able to post comment to an article you had written on Feb. 20th regarding the visit of Jordan Peterson to your area. I wonder if you have any further views on the subject.

    It would be interesting to know all the people whom had purchased tickets to his event.

  7. Sadly the school strike got silenced by the more powerful reporting about a Christchurch mass murder incident, we are non the wiser about children’s concerns about climate change now, what a pity.

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