The #FridaysForFuture movement, in which students in Europe are planning to skip classes, has now spread to Hong Kong. The movement, inspired by 16-year-old Swede, Greta Thunberg, first came to light after she spoke at the United Nations Climate Conference in December, and gathered more steam in January when she lectured business elites in Davos urging much tougher action against climate change.

In the meantime, students in many European countries have participated in climate strikes with the movement spreading as far as Australia. By skipping school, the students hope to pressure governments to take stronger action against the forces contributing to climate change.

Greta Thunberg
16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. Photo: WEC screenshot.

Locally, the movement appears to be gathering strength with about 500 students committed on the students’ Facebook page to attend today’s march from Chater Garden in Central to government headquarters at Tamar. Predictably, the Education Bureau has come out against the strike stating that the boycott of classes will disrupt order in schools and interfere with learning.

Such a reaction is both ironic and short-sighted but totally expected. Ironic, because our local education system remains moribund and obsessively focused on exams. In the meantime, innovative schools are encouraging experiential learning in recognition that society is moving so quickly that students need to be pro-active in their learning and seize moments like this. I have little doubt that if the strike is successfully pulled off, the students’ experience of organising the event, coupled with the networking that would occur during the strike, would benefit them far more than if they had been sitting in the classroom.

See also: If we don’t act on climate change, we’ll soon be up to our necks in hot water

As for short-sightedness, is there any doubting that climate change is reaching the level of a crisis? In a newly released book, The Uninhabitable Earth, author David Wallace-Wells describes in frightening detail the best and worst case scenarios in the coming decades, which many of us who are middle-aged and older will get only a glimpse. Basically, the title of this well-researched book says it all. Our warmest winter on record, seemingly already over now in early March, coupled with Typhoon Mangkhat last fall are only mild precursors of what’s to come.

The Education Bureau.
The Education Bureau. File

This is the whole point of the strike, which is largely being organised by teenagers. They are the ones, along with their children who will suffer most of the dire consequences of climate change.

Coincidentally, the just-released budget, one of the government’s signature events of the year, leaves little doubt about how out of touch our leaders are with regard to the impending climate crisis. The only measure in the budget that could be termed even remotely environmentally oriented was a promise for extra funding for more electric car charging stations, a laughably minuscule token to environmental sustainability. This is especially the case when one considers that lugging oneself around the city in a two tonne vehicle, whether or not it emits fumes, cannot be called sustainable given our marvellous public transport system, not to mention that most of our electricity for these “green” vehicles is generated here in Hong Kong by burning fossil fuels.

air pollution Hong Kong
Air pollution in Hong Kong. File Photo: GovHK.

Thus, our government leaders are dropping the ball on two fronts. They are unwilling to seriously contribute funding from their massive reserve and surplus to reduce our collective carbon footprint by investing in renewable energy and the like. Meanwhile, they continue to support those who get around town in large vehicles. Secondly, and perhaps even worse, they discourage our youth who are trying to create change from rising up and using their minimal power to do something about climate change via the strike.

It seems that our government, with its head in the sand, needs a warning much stronger than Typhoon Mangkhat before it is willing to change its mindset regarding climate change. That warning will surely come.

Paul Stapleton is a long-time resident of several countries in Asia, where he has been teaching and researching at various universities. He writes about environmental, social and educational issues. In his op-eds, Paul's goal is to shed some light on issues of interest as well as generate a bit of heat. Paul’s website is at Academic Proofreading Plus.