Sophie Handford says the time for feeling frustrated and voiceless about climate change is over.
“The window that we have to act is getting smaller and smaller by the day,” the 18-year-old said.
Handford is the Kāpiti-based New Zealand coordinator of a global strike action planned for the 15th of March.
Christchurch organiser Lucy Gray, 12, summed up the students’ frustration: “Young people like me have been waiting too long for the government to do nothing,” she said.
Young people are “motivated and inspired to do something,” 17-year-old Auckland coordinator Luke Wijohn said. “Maybe inspired isn’t the right word. Scared. Angry.”
Thousands of Kiwi kids will walk out of school and on to the streets next Friday as part of the School Strike 4 Climate.
They will join students in more than 50 countries in a global campaign for action on climate change.
Events are planned in more than 20 New Zealand towns and cities, with the Auckland organisers expecting thousands to gather in Aotea Square.
The young Kiwis are calling on the government to do more to limit global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees celsius, including passing a Zero Carbon Act, fast-tracking paths to reaching emissions targets and investing in renewable energy.
The students were hopeful their actions would prompt real and immediate change. Wijohn pointed towards the EU committing a quarter of its 1 trillion euro budget to tackle climate change, which came after 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg spoke in Brussels.
The school strike movement started with Swedish student Thunberg, who skipped class to sit outside government buildings for three weeks last year. Demonstrations across Europe and Australia followed.
The striking students said taking to the streets is their only chance to get their voices heard.
And if that comes at the price of a black mark on their attendance record, so be it.
While some principals have come out in support of the strike, others are threatening to mark students truant if they miss school on Friday.
Christchurch principals said the strike should have been held on the weekend, but 17-year-old Auckland organiser Gwyneth Parallag said that disregards the value students place on their schooling.
“It’s just another tactic to dismiss students’ activism,” she said. “We are literally risking our education.”
The Ministry of Education has advised schools to consider students’ motives when deciding whether to mark the absence as justified.