Updated: Mar 31, 2020
Image by Darcy Miller
Darcy Miller, Kemal Mohamedou, Allegra Miller and China Inoue contributed reporting to this article
The Bigger Picture (London, Geneva and Tokyo) — Millions of young people eschewed Black Friday, which has now become a symbol of consumerist capitalism, altogether and headed out onto the streets to advocate for government action on climate change. Around two million attended the strikes, a significant showing of support albeit half the size of September’s strikes. Students demonstrated in over 100 countries, across more than 2,000 cities, from Bangladesh, to Austria, to Tokyo, to Washington. Meanwhile, most Americans, Britons and other shoppers were out on the streets, or at home online, shopping to their heart’s content. Americans spent over $7.4bn online that day, obliterating all previous records, and Britons spent £2.53bn.
In the United States and Paris, demonstrations were focused on the consumerism of Black Friday and the impact this can have on climate change. As a report from last June by C40 Cities showed, consumer consumption goods like “food, clothing, aviation, electronics, construction and vehicles” bears responsibility for 10% of global GHG emissions, a significant slice of the pie. While in the US there was limited turnout due to the four-day holiday from Thanksgiving all the way through to Cyber Monday, New York Police arrested scores of demonstrators who held an anti-consumerism sit-in outside Macy’s department store. One of the 50 or so protesters who attended strikes in Washington D.C. told AFP that he thought it was "important to keep showing up, keep being out there and talking to people about how this is not a problem that can go away, unless we address it head-on”.
Over in Paris, protesters rallied outside Amazon offices in the northwestern area of France’s capital city, while others tried to block an Amazon warehouse. Scores of demonstrators assembled a human chain outside the La Defense shopping mall in a more direct attempt to prevent consumers from shopping. A manifesto shared by demonstrators in Paris read that “the planet burns, oceans die, and we still want to consume, consume, and therefore produce, produce – until we eradicate all living things? … We will not betray our children for a 30% discount!”.
Images courtesy of AFP and Reuters.
Madrid, on the other hand, witnessed a large turnout. Thousands called upon governments to act on climate change days before COP25, the UN climate negotiations, will convene in Spain’s capital city to ensure that the Paris Accord is being implemented by member nations.
In Sydney, many went on strike to show their dismay at the government’s response to bushfires which spread across the New South Wales region. More than 50 fires quickly formed due to strong winds, high temperatures and low humidity levels, many homes were lost as towns and communities burned to ashes. 350 koalas were “feared to have been killed” and dozens sought medical attention for asthma and breathing difficulties in Sydney as a result of the fires. 18-year-old Shiann Broderick, whose family home was lost to the bushfires, attended the protests, held outside the Sydney headquarters of the Liberal Party, which is currently in government. Broderick asserted that “as Prime Minister, [Scott Morrison’s] thoughts and prayers are not enough. I want climate action. This is a crisis. Act like it." She also remarked that “our government’s inaction on the climate crisis has supercharged bushfires”.
Images courtesy of The National and Reuters.
In London and across the UK, thousands turned out for climate demonstrations dominated by the upcoming General Election which has been scheduled for December the 12th. Protesters carried banners calling for an AOC-style “Green New Deal” to be implemented in the UK - similar policies are included in Labour’s election manifesto - and for climate change to be a centrepoint of the GE. One sign at the front of the march read “fuck Boris”, with similar chants breaking out. More chanting claimed Johnson was a “climate denier”, and others called for “votes at 16”. Johnson was met with harsh criticism for his decision to opt out of a climate debate held by ITV between party leaders the night before the strike - with Farage also AWOL, the debate turned into a “5 way race” to be the most environmentally friendly. Kaleigh Waterhouse, 18, told The Guardian that “Boris Johnson not showing up to the Channel 4 debate on the climate showed he doesn’t care. He’s not understood and he’s not bothered.” Youth Strike for Climate, the campaign that has organised many of the UK strikes, wrote on Twitter that "in the U.K. we're striking to make sure this is the #ClimateElection. The media must do better at covering this issue, and the electorate must #VoteClimate on December 12th." Interestingly, though, many went further than just advocating environmental action, with many demonstrating a hostility to the very nature of capitalism. One sign asserted that “capitalism is costing the planet”, and demonstrators chanted “Tory scum”. The anticapitalist suspects were handing out newspapers and brochures in Parliament Square as per usual, with some handing out Socialist Worker newspapers and placards, and others handing out copies of “Rebel City”, which claimed to be “London’s anarchist paper”.
Images by Darcy Miller (scroll through to view all the images)
Broadly pro-environment strikes and demonstrations took place in many other countries that didn’t necessarily centre around a single issue like Black Friday or a general election. In Tokyo, hundreds marched through Shinjuku, an impressive showing considering “the nail that sticks out gets hammered down” societal mentality there. The Bigger Picture’s Tokyo correspondent told this correspondent that polling shows “25.3% of 18-29 year olds… ‘are not interested in’ issues about global warming”, and that “people don’t really discuss their beliefs or opinions in Japan… not many people voice their political beliefs as it is frowned upon”. 19-year-old Mio Ishida, meanwhile, who was at the strikes, told AFP that she feels “a sense of crisis because almost no one in Japan is interested. I was really inspired by Greta’s actions”.
Image courtesy of AP.
In Manila, climate strikers marched past several well-known landmarks. In New Delhi, protesters rallied outside the Environment Ministry, to show their opposition to government inaction over hazardous air quality in India’s capital city, the world’s most polluted capital city. In Hong Kong, where anti-Chinese, pro-democratic protests have dominated the public consciousness and civil society for months now, students demonstrated for the climate, holding signs reading “the seas are rising, and so are we”. In Thailand, demonstrators rallied and brandished protest signs with messages like “you’ll die of old age, I’ll die of climate change”, and in Bangkok, students staged a “drop dead” flashmob. Activists donned gas masks in Warsaw, advocating an end to the use of coal in the country within the next decade, while in Berlin, protesters dove into the chilly River Spree, holding up a white box in a symbolic gesture to mark their opposition to a recently announced government climate change spending package widely dismissed as inadequate and insignificant.
Images courtesy of Green Queen, Greenpeace, Reuters and PAP
In Geneva, Switzerland, the climate strike focused on denouncing Black Friday. Protesters only marched after the shops had closed at 7:30 p.m. which caused some controversy as some claimed that in-doing so they were ‘giving in to the system’. During the day, numerous associations and student-led organisations arranged barterings of clothes so as to symbolically denounce the day which has been deemed as having “the worst aspects of the system”. In the evening, thousands marched through the city centre with anti-capitalist signs such as “save the planet, eat a capitalist” and “change the system not the climate”. The protests were also surveilled by an unusually large police force.
Image by Kemal Mohamedou
The COP25 talks in Madrid on Monday involve over 200 nations, and aim to confirm the “rulebook” for the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, which will become “operational” in 2021.