'I want snow for Christmas:' Students demand climate action
Thousands of students skipped school. They were in Berlin. It was part of a growing worldwide youth movement. They were demanding faster action. It is against climate change.
They carried signs. The signs had slogans. Some read "I want snow for Christmas.” Others said "The climate is changing, why aren't we?" The demonstrators gathered. The got together in a park. It was near the capital's main train station. Then they marched. They marched through the government district.
Police estimated the size of the crowd. They said it was more than 20,000.
Greta Thunberg inspired the protests in Germany. She is a Swedish teenager. She headlined the demonstration. She inspired protests elsewhere. She did so by staging a weekly "school strike." She joined others at the rally. They were shouting: "What do we want? Climate justice. When do we want it? Now!"
The 16-year-old spoke to the animated crowd. She said that "older generations have failed tackling the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced." She took the stage. She spoke in front of the landmark Brandenburg Gate.
"When we say to them we are worried about the future of our civilization, they just pat us on our heads and say everything will be fine. Don't worry," she said. "But we should worry. We should panic. And by panic I don't mean running around screaming. By panic I mean stepping out of our comfort zones. Because when you're in a crisis you change your behavior."
The crowd applauded wildly. They chanted "Greta, Greta." That was after she wrapped up her short speech. And after she left the stage. Thunberg later met with scientists. They met at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. It is just outside the German capital.
There are some 26,000 scientists. They are in German-speaking countries. They have signed a call. It is in support of the protesting students. They did so in recent weeks.
"The young people are right to say that this is about intergenerational justice." That's according to Johan Rockstrom. He is the Potsdam Institute's director. "Science clearly shows that climate action today, or the lack thereof, defines the world our children and grandchildren will have to live in."
The Berlin rally was one of more than twenty. They were being held around the country.
Protester Gabriele Konradi brought her 7-year-old daughter. Her name is Valerie. She brought her to the protest. They were part of a group. They were holding signs. The signs read things like "change the system, not the climate."
Valerie said she hoped "people will not produce so much garbage anymore."
The weekly "Fridays for Future" protests have been largely welcomed by German politicians. But some have criticized students. They did so for protesting during school time.
One protester addressed the grievance. The protestor did so with a sign. It read: "I'll go to school, if you keep the planet cool."
Chancellor Angela Merkel has called the protests "a very good initiative." But many at the rally accused her government of failing. They say it is not doing enough to stop global warming.
"Angela Merkel, do you climate homework!" That's what one sign read.
Stephan Gabriel Haufe denied that Germany is dragging its feet on climate action. He is an Environment Ministry spokesman. He said the government plans to pass a bill. It should pass this year. It lays out new targets. These are for each sector of the economy. The targets are intended to reduce its emissions. This is by 2030.
Scientists estimate that the protesters will be in their 40s and 50s. They may even be in their 30s. They say this is when the world will reach the dangerous levels of warming. These are what international climate agreements are trying to prevent. That's unless emissions of heat-trapping gases start dropping dramatically.
Thunberg started holding solitary demonstrations. They were outside the Swedish parliament. They started last year. She urged quicker actions. She urged stronger actions. She wants them to fight climate change. The weekly protests have now snowballed. They have gone from a handful of cities to hundreds. Many draw smaller crowds than took part in Berlin. They are inspired by her effort.
"The young people who are standing here and demonstrating everywhere in Germany now can definitely make a difference. And also will be seen by the politicians," said Felix Osebold. He is 19 years old. He is a student. He was protesting in Berlin. "It can't be that nothing is happening."