Over 1560 researchers, academics and educators have signed an open letter supporting school students around New Zealand as they prepare to strike for action to be taken on climate change.

“As health professionals we know that climate change is already affecting the wellbeing of children and young people,” says Dr Alex Macmillan, Co-convenor of OraTaiao: New Zealand Climate and Health Council.

“For as long as adults in leadership and government fail to act adequately to prevent the worst impacts of climate change, we will support school students to strike in protection of their own futures.”

“As climate change is the most serious threat to human health in the 21st century, health professionals recognise the urgent need for rapid change at all levels of society.”

Young people today will face the burden of extreme weather events and costs from a planet that is warming due to uncontrolled greenhouse gas emissions.

Statistics education project CensusAtSchool has revealed that 44 per cent of the 4,900 students who have taken the survey so far, selected the statement that climate change was “an urgent problem that needs to be managed now”.

“By striking the students are calling on our government to do everything it can to limit warming to no more than 1.5°C, through measures such as a firm, fair Treaty-based Zero Carbon Act, which so far appears to be a unfulfilled promise by this government,” says Dr Macmillan.

Professor Niki Harré of University of Auckland’s School of Psychology has described the strike action as inspiring and humbling.

“If I was 16, I’d be terrified by the behaviour of adults in politics and the media – who is going to look after me in a world that seems more interested in controversy than in calmly figuring out how to solve the problems we face? The strikes are also inspiring because young people are expressing their fear and anger collectively. Fear often leads to withdrawal when the problem is huge and the person concerned feels unable to take meaningful action. By organising these strikes, young people have given each other a way to do something that just might make a difference. Instead of feeling isolated and miserable they are now standing united, and that is huge.”

Dr Bronwyn Wood, Senior Lecturer, Victoria University of Wellington says they have good evidence from a recent two-year study of New Zealand secondary school students who  undertook ‘social action’ as part of their learning for NCEA.

“The research team interviewed 92 students from a wide range of secondary schools who had been involved in taking social action themselves. They found that students felt their learning was enhanced greatly through dealing with actual issues that mattered to them.

“I don’t doubt that the experience this Friday will provide similar memorable learning opportunities for students. In addition, they will be exposed to experiences that deepen their knowledge and experience of processes within our democracy. At the same time, their actions will draw attention to the issue of climate change which needs world-stopping attention right now.”

Dr Sylvia Nissen, Lecturer, Department of Environmental Management, Lincoln University, says the students’ message is as clear as it is uncompromising – that we must urgently reduce greenhouse emissions across all sectors of society to avoid even more severe impacts of a changing climate.

“It’s a message that is grounded in the latest science on climate change, while reminding us that climate is a matter of social justice with the burdens falling on those least responsible, including children and future generations.”

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