Henley Students Protest For Urgent Action Against Climate Crisis
Young people are calling for action on the climate crisis after a second Henley school strike last Friday. Students from local institutions, including Sacred Heart, Gillotts and Henley College, stood outside the Town Hall to protest against political inaction in the face of ecological disaster. The demonstration coincided with school strikes for climate across the world, with an estimated 1.5 million school children walking out of lessons in over 130 countries.
The Henley strikes for climate were initiated by Sacred Heart Primary School student, Grace Gubbins. 10 year old Grace, frustrated with the lack of government action on the escalating environmental emergency, was inspired by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg to voice her demands through public protest. “I kind of want people to actually take notice of it and do something about it rather than just sitting around,” she attested. “I don’t want to have to live in a world that’s full of plastic and that’s completely polluted, so I’d just like to help save it.”
The first Henley climate strike took place on earlier this year on March 15th, and saw a handful of local children turn up to support the initiative. Last Friday’s protest saw a greater attendance, attracting students from Sacred Heart, Gillotts, Henley College, and Peppard. The strike was organised between 12 and 1pm to match Sacred Heart’s lunch break; unlike the trailblazing Greta Thunberg, Grace was keen to minimise any impact on her schooling. “I think [Greta’s] doing a great job,” she expressed, “but the reason I’m doing it at lunch times is because I don’t really want to miss out on my education – I don’t want to disrupt my teachers and classmates.”
The protesters held homemade signs and banners bearing calls to action. One such placard, created by home schooled Tabitha, highlighted one of the most significant choices that an individual can make to impact change: adopting a plant-based diet. “The best thing we can do for the environment is to go vegan,” she implored. “Animal agriculture is the leading cause of global warming, land use, deforestation and ocean dead zones. It’s the biggest environmental polluter. Scientists predict that we only have 11 years to save our environment and our planet, so we need to start cutting down on meat and dairy or go vegan right now, before it’s too late.” For those considering a switch to a vegan lifestyle, Tabitha shared her advice on how best to make the transition: “Do your research. Know how to plan a balanced diet. Every single supermarket now has a wide range of vegan food. Watch documentaries like Forks Over Knives, Earthlings and Cowspiracy.”
Each young activist spoke with passion and candour about climate breakdown. Connor, from Sacred Heart, declared, “Everybody hears the news and says, oh this is horrible, all these people are dying, what’s going to happen, but nobody actually acts on it. I think people should act on it instead of just talking about it. I just feel like that’s why we’re here — to make people act instead of just sit there.” Lilly, also from Sacred Heart, said, “I’m here to stop climate change because I would like the future children to have a future to go to, not just pollution everywhere, where you can’t live properly. And for the animals too — some of them are really endangered already, so we need to halt climate change.”
Parents of the children, including Grace’s mum, Katherine Gubbins, were also present to show their support. Katherine said, “I think it’s great that there are more people here than there were last time, that people are getting involved and that young people want to have a voice. It’s really important that they feel they do have a voice and they can make change. You have to collaborate — if we work together then we’ll get results.”
The Henley protests are part of the global school strike movement, started by 16 year old Greta Thunberg in Sweden last August. Since then, the demonstrations have continued to grow in size as thousands of young people around the world urge their governments to act against climate breakdown. Though the UK became the first country to declare a climate emergency this month, the demands of the children are clear — we all must do more in the fight for our future, and we must do it now.