‘Seas are rising, and so are we.’ - Hong Kong youth march for climate action

Written By Jobert Leung

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The consensus of scientists around the world is that climate change exists, and there is no denying it. However, it seems that only those in positions of authority and influence can stop the march of global warming, and by the look of things they are doing nothing about it, choosing instead to focus on other matters.

So what are the young people of this generation, who will bear the brunt of its impact, doing about it?  Enter the School Strike for Climate Action.

Started last year by 16-year old climate activist Greta Thunberg, this student movement aims to bring awareness about climate change to the the ears of world leaders, mainly by having students boycott school to show that the threat of global warming is more important than school to them. Here in Hong Kong, three students took it upon themselves to start up their own school strike. On March 15th Hong Kong students held a rally to express solidarity with many other students participating in the #FridaysForFuture movement worldwide.

“We’re hoping that the government will listen to us and will hopefully review the current 2030 [climate action] plan,” says 17-year old organizer Zara Campion “The plan isn’t a bad plan, but we just think that Hong Kong is capable of a lot more, which is what we’re hoping the government will realize.”

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The demonstration started in Central’s Chater Garden at 11 a.m., with students from all around Hong Kong gathering there to march to the Central Government Offices in Admiralty 90 minutes later. Around the venue, banners made out of recycled materials were waved and slogans were chanted, hoping to draw as much attention to the issue of climate change as possible.

“I think that possibly Hongkongers aren’t very aware of global warming,” says 45-year old Charlie, one of the few Chinese adults attending the event. “Even though over these past few years we’ve felt the effects of a few powerful typhoons, it seems that spreading the message of global warming is not easy. I think that there needs to be more promotion to make people know that global warming is an imminent threat. [...] Global warming will affect everyone, and the students possibly have more drive to act, but the adults in Hong Kong are different.”

30 minutes after the event started, several students who volunteered gave speeches about climate change, though they were quickly drowned out due to a lack of good sound equipment and their audience’s passion. The speech session lasted until 12:30 p.m., when the march to government headquarters began.

Carrying their enthusiasm with them, the demonstrators passed through Queensway to Admiralty, on the way going through the shopping malls of Pacific Place and Admiralty Center. Upon arriving at their destination, they continued protesting outside the government headquarters complex, and the organizers handed their proposal for greater action on climate change by legislators to Legislative Council president Andrew Leung at the end of the rally.

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According to estimates by the organizers and SCMP, around 1,000 people attended the demonstration, of which the majority were international school students and expatriates.

“We tried to reach out to local students as much as we could, and we realized that a lot of them are scared of being punished by their school,” said Campion. “[W]e had a lot of messages from some; they’re actually interested in coming and they want to come, but because of their schools and because they’re scared of punishment they can’t come.”

“I’d say it’s a bit ironic that it’s more international kids than local kids, when Hong Kong is an international hub, and I think that local kids should be here because it is not just about our future, but about an international problem, and everybody’s going to be affected by it, so I think it’s really in their best interest to turn up and show that they care, because it is for their future, and without this, regardless of how well they do academically, their future may not be very bright.”

This sentiment was echoed by RCHK student Emily Li, who attended the strike alongside several friends. “I just think that the idea that a lot of international students here [which] could be spun into a story like the typical ‘white expatriates are ungrateful’; that type of angle’s very easy to take because I feel like a lot of people are here for some less than legitimate reasons,” says Li. However, she still admired the efforts by the organizers to make people’s concerns about climate change known to the government. “̌I think like a lot of different political situations in Hong Kong. Being able to strike and protest and show the government that we actually care about things like this [...] is one of the most important parts about today. It’s just about making our awareness [heard].”

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35-year old part-time teacher Catherine was also concerned about the lack of local students at the event, seeing as they were the ones with the highest stake in this issue. “The Hong Kong local students [I teach] are very sad about their future. I think they feel a lack of control; they have no power, and that’s really quite sad, and you notice that when they’re writing essays for university or school,” she says, echoing the feelings of helplessness that Hong Kong youth often feel.

“I’m pessimistic like my Hong Kong students. I would say [that this event would have no effect on government policy], but of course I want it and I hope [this event] can have an effect. I really think that [the organizers’] suggestion to have representatives would be a very positive step forward, because the government is thinking of a lot of massive plans with a lot of money for Hong Kong, and will change Hong Kong forever in a very bad way, and I think it’s really important that students say in 2030 or 2040 what they want their city to look like.”

Despite the obvious lack of locals present, Campion was still hopeful that the government would come to realize that not only locals have a stake in the future of Hong Kong and that they care about the city they live in.

“I’ve lived here for 13 years, and Hong Kong is my home,” she says, “I moved away from my country when I was five so I don’t really remember much from there, so Hong Kong is a home to me and it’s a place which I’ve grown to love, so even though I’m not [from Hong Kong], I think I do have an important stake in Hong Kong as a person and I think the reason we’ve been doing this is we care about Hong Kong, and if we didn’t care about Hong Kong, we wouldn’t be doing this, we’d go to our own countries and do this, but we actually care about Hong Kong, we care about Hong Kong being green, and we aim towards the future because we love Hong Kong and it’s our home.”

When asked about the difference between protesting and the ‘meaningful action’ emphasized by various ESF schools, Campion responded, “I think that we go to school five days a week and during those five days we learn, and three hours on a Friday is not what’s going to cost our education, and as much as school’s important and you learn vital things in school, this is a core part of many curriculums, especially IB and many other curriculums in the world, and by coming here you’re just putting it into action what you’re learning in school.”

People from various organizations also attended the rally with different agendas, some with genuine concern about climate change and others to promote their own causes.

“I heard about [this event] through Facebook,” says local independent pro-democracy legislator Eddie Chu. “I’m out here to support the students today. Today’s very important, [but] I think that for now, there won’t be any impact, as not many of Hong Kong’s local students are participating today. The government also isn’t paying attention because of their other projects such as the Lantau Tomorrow Vision (artificial island), the $1.7 billion bridge in Yuen Long, and the Northeast New Territories expansion.”

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Representing Socialist Action, a little-known political movement, was 62 year-old Griffith Jones from New Jersey, who was there in part to advocate his group’s ideals, but also to support the assembled youth.

“[I’m here] because I believe that we’re teetering on the precipice of ecological destruction. Something has to be done, and I’m so glad that these young people are out here making their opinions and their objections to the status quo known to all,” he says. “The only thing that affects government policy in Hong Kong is what the CCP and Beijing dictate, but that said, I think it will at least raise consciousness that there’s a layer of young people in Hong Kong, and it’s broader than just the international schools represented here today, who do not want to see their futures ruined by greedy politicians and the corporate interests that back them.”

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However, others were more optimistic about the event’s possible impact. Representing the ‘grandparental generation’, 62-year old Gavin saw potential in what the assembled youth could do in the future.

“What’s important about it is the beginning,” he explains. “All of these people, the kids here, will be voting very soon in a few years, and to get them all together and put pressure on the older generations to do something, it’s important.”

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