School Strike 4 Climate Action: what does RCHK think?

Written by Hemant Bharwaney

The Hong Kong March (photo credits: Jane Chan)

On March 15, 2019, three Hong Kong student activists - Elisa Hirn, Zara Campion and Emily Tarr - will lead several hundred secondary students from Chater Garden to the Central Government Offices in Admiralty in a class boycott inspired by Swedish 16-year old Greta Thunberg’s worldwide grassroots movement #FridaysForFuture.

In addition to demonstrating “deep concern” over the supposed lack of Hong Kong governmental action with regards to environmental issues, particularly renewable energy, energy efficiency, electric mobility, and greenhouse gas emissions, the organisers aim to submit a climate change proposal to the government outlining methods and policies to combat the problem.

Naturally, the event has stirred up quite the controversy. Although the initiative has clearly garnered support from the student community, with 624 confirmed as “going” on the event’s Facebook page and upwards of 1,700 “interested” as of March 14, institutions seem to be more sceptical.

The Education Bureau issued a public statement condemning the strike, claiming that it “would disrupt order in schools, and interfere with the normal learning of students and operation of schools”. Likewise, the English Schools Foundation also issued a letter to parents stating that it supported the cause “in principle” but could not support students participating in the strike, citing safety and staff accompaniment issues.

Within the RCHK community, opinions also seem to be quite mixed, with students conflicted over the fundamental purpose of the strike and its practical implications.

“Raising awareness about climate change is important because if we don’t do something, future generations are going to enter a world where they won’t be able to reverse the damage,” said Rachel Vong, a student in Year 9.“ But, nevertheless, the government won’t really listen unless there is a big turn up, and I don’t reckon local school students will strike as they are more focused on education.”

Eugene Park, a Year 12 student and founder of air pollution research think-tank Project Matter, questioned the initiative’s validity and appropriateness, claiming that the “the nature of a strike is to cause civil disrupt and generate publicity for a policy or change you want to see enacted,” criteria he felt were not met by the strike. “It [will be] held during off-peak hours, will not involve locals and has no policy or change that it is pushing for. In other words, it's everything but a strike.”

Prominent student environmentalist Jane Chan, who recently spearheaded an HK$260,000 solar panels installation initiative, could only offer reluctant support for the strike at a local level. “I’m going mainly because I know it’s a worldwide movement of around 40 countries,” she stated in an interview. “Even though I have some qualms about the Hong Kong one and how it’s organised and the people who are organising it and the effects on Hong Kong locally, I think the global movement, in the end, is a worthy trade-off.”

Other members of the community were more optimistic about the strike’s impact on Hong Kong. “The strike is, at the very least, going to be a noteworthy attention-catching event, which is just what the HK government needs,” stated Emily Li, a student in Year 11 who will be attending the event on the 15th. She stated that “given Hong Kong's current political situation and previous tensions with student protests, [she is] excited to see where the strike will lead in terms of inciting discussion.”

Similarly, Year 11 student Jobert Leong affirmed his support and admiration for “people taking initiative and organizing a protest to show that people really do care about the inevitable threat of climate change.” However, he questioned whether or not the government would actually enact change in environmental policy “due to their infamous ignorance to the voice of the people”, referring to 2014’s Occupy Central with Love and Peace movement.  Despite this concern, he sees attending the strike as a learning experience whether it succeeds or fails, “as [he] want to see how a protest led by international school students would differ from one led by local school students.”

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