Remember – There Have Been Gretas Before


My environmental activism started back in the 1980s when I was a teenager. Like many of the teens that came onto the streets last week, my passion about saving the planet and fighting for the future was sparked by a growing global movement. We young people felt we were part of a great movement, a great wave of action, which had sprung from the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, the Bruntland Commission, and the 1987 report which resulted – Our Common Future. That report, whilst seen by many as not radical enough, set out a series of measures which had to be implemented. It coined the phrase ‘sustainable development’ and defined it as ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’

The Bruntland Commission set in motion a whole series of global conferences to examine how the report could be implemented. The most important of these was the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, which was much anticipated given the role that the Amazon played in the protection of biodiversity and climate stability. Among those who addressed the conference was a twelve year old girl, Severn Suzuki, who, with her friends, had formed a children’s movement for environmental protection. They had raised the money themselves to come to the summit with a clear message: adults needed to change their ways to safeguard their generation.

Like thousands of children of my generation, I looked to Severn and the movement she sparked, as inspiration – with a firm believe that the then grown ups would listen. We dived right in with passion and commitment. Many of us chose careers in international cooperation and ecology as a a result. As the strikes exploded all over the world last week, I found myself watching the grainy video of Severn those 27 years ago. It was extraordinary, and extremely saddening, to observe how strikingly similar the words of Severn sound to those of Greta and all the youth across the world.

Back in 1992, Severn started her message saying:

“Coming up here today, I have no hidden agenda. I am fighting for my future. Losing my future is not like losing an election, or losing a few points on the stock markets.”

She proceeded to give leaders a talking down begging them to ACT. It led me to think how on earth this message – told with such passion and such directness – fell on deaf ears? In the intervening years, all but one of the measures of planetary health set out at the Earth Summit have been breached. Climate emissions have risen exponentially. Bio-diversity loss has reached a critical point. In fact, the only issue which has been substantially addressed is the hole in the ozone layer – and even that is now coming under serious strain.

The reality is that there have been many ‘Gretas’ before. At almost every UN conference I have followed there have been powerful moral voices – from Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner and her baby from the Marshall Islands addressing the UN General Assembly, to Yeb Sano’s moving intervention at the COP in Poland in 2013 as his home town was pummeled by Typhoon Haiyan.

Almost every conference has been opened by a clarion call to protect the future. All of those calls are met by an emotional, sometimes tearful response – after all, the negotiators are human beings too. It is impossible not to be moved. And yet, the relentless destruction continues via policy chouces those same people make. After the emotional moment, business as usual continues. Each country representative reverts to form – to protect a mythical “national interest” which is entirely blind to the inter-connectedness of all our interests as one planet. Our planetary interest is silenced.

So I ask myself, how can the message of this Greta be not only listened to – but acted on? How can we translate the emotional response into action with a level of urgent action that is needed? Can we dare to hope that in 27 years we will not be remembering another brave young woman in a world in ruins?

A number of things give me hope in this most recent uprising. The first is the power we people possess through our instant, inter-connected world, and particularly the power of youth to harness this via social media. This power gives us the possibility not only to have one Greta – but thousands, possibly millions of Gretas in every nation, city and town across the world. We are all discovering local Gretas now. We can all be Greta. This means we can all simultaneously “stop the world”, at least on Fridays, and start to build the future we need. This growing movement is tenacious, and hungry for change. The leaders of this movement understand how to mobilise in ways older generations could not even have dreamed of. Moreover, there are early signs that what started as a youth movement could morph into a more widespread planetary movement – with many more joining forces with the children. This is not just their battle. It belongs to everyone.

The translation of this into political action, however, is by no means a given. The path to policy change is fraught with difficulties and blocked by some incredibly powerful vested interests. They have frustrated efforts for thirty years and will not cease now as this report shows. Back in 1992, we firmly believed our aspirations of Earth Summit would become change because they were right. Now the stakes are so high both for the older generations that control vested interests, and vast resources, and for the younger ones who will risk everything for change. Power is never ceded by the powerful. It is always won by a more powerful force. It will take us all to unite to subvert those interests.

After the big #ClimateStrike – what next?


Here is my list of ten simple things we can all do to keep the momentum up to save our children’s future from runaway climate change. This is just the beginning!


ONE: Hug your children so tight tonight, especially uf they went to a march. Look them straight in the eye and say: I promise I will do all I can from now on to save the planet. We are in this together and we are going to sort this. Once you do this, the rest is easy.

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TWO: Keep marching and raising your voice. This is by far the most important thing just now. Join one of the weekly protests on the map. Politicians and institutions need to know our children’s future matters above all else – and we are prepared to do what it takes to protect it. Put “climate action” at top of your list of voting concerns. Invite your children to meet politicians when the come to the door.


Start or join an environmental book club like Friends of the Earth Ireland book club. Bring a climate book like Climate Generation to your existing book.

FOUR: Buy less, especially new stuff. Every single thing we buy uses energy. How much of it do we need? Our lives are overflowing with STUFF. Think of all the other ways to have stuff you need, including community sharing schemes, charity shops, second hand… Do more outdoors activities instead of indulging in shopping as a leisure activity.


FIVE: Vote with your wallet. Buy mindfully: whether it is plastic packaging or palm oil – make choices that impact less on our planet. Do it loudly and let the companies and the world know why you are making choices.


Irish Dairy Cows. Credit:

SIX: Lower or cut out your meat and dairy consumption: red meat is hugely damaging to our planet due to methane emissions. Best to cut it out completely. Lower your consumption of other meat as much as you can. Why not go meat free for Lent or for one day a week?

SEVEN: Fly less or not at all. Flying is the guilty pleasure of our high carbon society. It is hugely damaging to the climate. Make a commitment now to fly less, particularly for pleasure and non-essential trips. Start a conversation in your workplace about shifting to lower impact ways of working.

EIGHT: Change how you commute. Public transport, walking and cycling are all great options if they exist. If you have money, avail of grants and invest in an electric car. Obviously to be low carbon you need to ensure your electricity supplier is 100% renewable! Lobby your local council for better public transport and cycling infrastructure. Encourage your local community to set up a “scooter train” or “bike train” to local schools.

Climate Choice

Climate choice concept as a person standing at a cross road junction between an unhealthy scene with grey polluted dirty and contaminated air contrasted with a green healthy horizon of plants and clean air as a metaphor for global ecology.

NINE: Invest in making your home more energy efficient. So much of our emissions come from leaky homes and buildings and over use of electricity. Grants are available to retrofit homes. Meters are available to help manage energy usage.

TEN: And above all else… Become more grateful for our beautiful planet! Spent more time outdoors connecting with nature and each other. It starts with embracing our mother earth. Join many others in taking a minute out each day at midday to reflect on the beautiful planet we have inherited. Connect with an online community like Vow to protect the earth. There is no earth upgrade.

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Daffodils in full bloom in December

Top Tips: Making a Splash on 15 March!


strike for future

The climate strike movement has been snowballing right across the world over the past few months. What started as the solitary action of a Swedish teenager has lit a fire across the entire globe.The global map of events taking place is truly astounding. Well over 500 events across nearly 60 countries are planned – and counting. Is this the moment the world has been waiting for, and many of us who have been working in this area have been yearning for? It seems the world is finally waking up to the tragedy on the horizon. And because it is children who are leading this planetary awakening, there is precious little chance that it will go back to sleep soon.

Here in Ireland, from a rather slow start, people are waking up too. Over the past few weeks the level of media coverage on the strikes has grown continually – from my own opinion piece in the Irish Times, to a weekend feature by Kevin O’Sullivan.   There have been features too in Green News, the Independent and RTE website. This week the student leaders in Ireland took their message and demands straight to parliament. Ahead of this, the Taoiseach appeared to come out in support of the school strikes in Leaders Questions. Tomorrow they will take it to the nation live on TV on the Late Late Show. It is fantastic to see Ireland’s most well known presenter, Ryan Tubrity, continuing to engage on climate change since we spoke back in February about Climate Generation.

Top Tips: Making a Splash on 15 March

Many people have been asking me whether they can get involved in the global strike – and what they should do and how best to prepare. Here is my top tips from my climate strike on what has worked well – and how to make an impact. This applies whether you are 10000 people or just on your own!

A lot of this depends, of course, on who is striking and how many are expected. Bigger events require permits and police should be informed. Smaller local events may not require prior approval, though it is always best to check locally.

Tip 1: Location, Location, Location

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Find a public space which is ideally symbolic for decision-makers. For example, it could be a county hall, a political party office, a government department. Think about foot fall – are many people passing by? Ideally you need a steady foot fall to attract attention. Also thing about a busy junction – could you get your message safely over to drivers? One thing that has had a big impact is signage inviting drivers to beep for climate action. Vehicles beeping generates a sense of instant impact – message heard! Of course, it is important to ensure safety first and avoid situations where people might inadvertently distract drivers or step out into traffic.

Tip 2: Signage and Slogans

You need to have great signs and slogans prepared in advance. You will find loads of ideas here. Think about what materials you use – portable and light! A simple sign with black on white is very effective, as are simple drawings of the earth at risk. Have a sign making party and invite friends and neighbours to join in. Avoid pale colours and busy signs as people can’t read them. Make reusable signs if you can – these protests are not just for one day! My sign has been used 15 times so far and counting!

Tip 3: Social media

Social media is absolutely key to making a splash. Our little Dublin strikes of 100 people have reached global audiences of hundreds of thousands thanks to facebook and twitter! You need to use the correct hashtags: #FridaysForFuture #ClimateStrike – and then whatever others you like. Short videos with chanting or singing go viral quicker than static photos. Videos should be less than 20 secs. Think of any cute or funny elements – we had a dog doing a strike a few weeks back and that got loads of hits with #climatedog!


Marley, climate superdog

Privacy is really important here – and be sure to ask people for permission to put their picture on social media in advance. If children are involved you need to also ask permission from teachers or parents. Take names and twitter/FB accounts of anyone who would like a copy of the photo.

Tip 4: Local links and media

Once you have your location and time, set about connecting locally to get others involved. Twitter and facebook are great for this – tagging local schools, youth clubs, businesses, media, politicians… watch them all get involved! Our local strike in Maynooth made front page of the local gazette which every householder receives and reads!


Tip 5: Be consistent

Once you decide on your location and time, stick to it. You will be amazed how many people just drop by! You can log your event on map. That way everyone can know about it.

You can also set up a Facebook Event independently and share on the local climate strike group for your country. In Ireland there are several groups, but the one I maintain is Climate Strike Ireland – #FridaysForFuture. 

Tip 6: Set some ground rules

As protests and strikes grow, this can be tricky, but it is really important. One rule we have set for the weekly strikes in Dublin is no official banners. So we advise people not to use banners for organisations or political parties. We are all there in our individual capacity and not representing an organisation. This makes the event non-partisan and open to all.


Tip 7: Don’t wait, just do it!

Why wait until someone else starts a #FridaysForFuture protest when you can do it yourself! What is stopping you? You can be part of something great on teh 15 March and beyond.


New York Climate March 2014






Dear Parents on Planet Earth…


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TO: Parents of Planet Earth

SUBJECT: Climate Strike

Dear fellow parents,

Over the past few weeks we have witnessed an unprecedented rising of our children across the world. They have skipped school on Fridays to protest about climate change, following the example of a Swedish teenager, Greta Thunberg. Their example has drawn both praise – especially from scientists – and criticism. For many people their action may seem quite bewildering. Why are they taking such extreme action? Are they being unduly politically influenced? Should we be concerned?

I shared many of these questions until a few years ago I had a rude awakening to the urgency of climate change and what it means for our children. Like these children on the streets, I became anguished by the silence and the fear to face this mammoth challenge facing us all.

Like these children, I have studied the science. Based on that scientific evidence the message was clear: we are out of time. Not “nearly” out of time – but actually out of time. Our planet is already warming fast and the next generation will be in serious trouble. Unless we take radical action and change our ways, we risk bequeathing them an unlivable planet. Surely none of us want that?

This realization, which shook me to my very foundations, led me to give up my full-time job and to focus on waking people up to this stark reality. I wrote a book about my experiences, Climate Generation, with a wish that others could understand what the scientists are telling us. I wanted to share my story with other parents – not as some kind of guilt trip, but as a sincere plea to wake up and take our kids future seriously. I shared my concerns on the Ryan Tubrity Show. 


I also started to look around and see where I could raise my voice for change.  Last December a friend who read my book, Jim, introduced me (on social media) to Greta Thunberg. Together Jim and I started following her. She was striking for climate action. Many school children across Australia, and then the world, were starting to follow her example. Then, in December, Greta made her speech to the UN climate talks in Poland. In one minute she managed to capture the sheer urgency of what the world is facing – and put a call out to everyone to raise their voices by coming out on Fridays.

That following Friday Jim and I decided we would answer her call. It seemed the most natural thing in the world to go on climate strike.  We didn’t think for a minute we were “too old”. As parents who care we wanted to be the answer to that call. For me, with young boys, I felt it only right that I should stand on their behalf. After all, it is my own lifestyle, my inaction and my generation that has caused this mess. Sure, my boys will join when they can, but why should they stand in the cold, miss school and shoulder such a heavy burden? When they can’t, I will.

That was 12 weeks ago. Each week we carry out our #FridaysForFuture strike for climate justice outside the Irish Parliament. Every week our numbers grow: groups of students, teachers, religious, politicians, grandparents, mothers with prams, city workers on lunch break. It is a wonderful eclectic mix of humanity. We greet each other in a spirit of inter-generational embrace. We realise that we need each other. That we are all the climate generation now.

So my call to ALL parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles – and everyone else in the young at heart group – is to get behind our young people, especially our youngest humans. They need us now more than ever. There is a golden moment now to show you care and you are sorry for what our generation has done. It doesn’t take much – perhaps one hour each Friday: stand in a public place with your placard. Post on social media and log it on map. And watch it grow. I guarantee you will not be alone for long.

Hope to see you soon at one of our #FridaysForFuture strikes!


Get in touch!