Students across Swindon bunked off their classes today to spread the message of a topic which they feel is currently the most important: climate change.
The rippling effects of youth climate strikes across the globe hit Swindon today as children as young as 11 gathered outside Swindon Borough Council’s Civic Offices. The students hoped they would be able to send their message loud and clear to their town’s councillors: "climate action now".
This afternoon students from across Swindon joined local environmental group Extinction Rebellion Swindon as part of a global school strike. The band of eco-warriors wanted to raise their concerns about climate change to Swindon Borough Council from the future of the town's green spaces, and air quality, to the growing population and the wider scope of the melting Arctic.
Liz from Redhouse attended the demonstration with her daughter, aged 11. Liz says she praises the council’s decision to axe plastic going straight to landfill but believes more should be done. She said: “There’s still a hell of a lot more than can be done – even something as simple as food waste collection going back to weekly, and making more plastic-free shops.
"Children should be able to stand up for what they believe in and have a voice. At times, – especially politically at the moment – they’re not being listened to.”
Her daughter, who Liz wishes to remain anonymous, added: "There’s so much plastic! Climate change is a big thing - the Arctic is getting smaller because of it, so lots of polar bears are getting killed and penguins have less places to live. It’s bad."
In February a cross-party motion to make Swindon carbon-neutral by 2030 was rejected by the council. The motion was put forward after councils across the UK, including Wiltshire Council, Oxford City Council and Bristol City Council, declared a climate emergency. But, Swindon Borough Council ultimately ruled that the council's current policies on green matters were enough at the time. Some young people living in the town, however, seem to disagree.
Chloe Woodhouse, 17, is currently studying at New College. She said: "From what we’ve just been told, they [council] seem to care about climate change, but I actually want to see them act than just talk about it – I don’t want anyone to lie to us anymore. I want them to actually do something.
"The earth is so wonderful, and I don’t think it’s right to keep taking from it and not try and give something back – this is our home, lets treat it like one. You don’t throw litter around your house, so why are we doing that to the earth? I think it’s hypocritical.
"Our world could be a dystopia and this planet won’t exist – humanity just won’t be there anymore."
Oliver Easdon, 17, also from New College added: "I myself am a geography student so I’ve learnt about climate change and how it’s affecting the planet. I believe there needs to be a change now.
"Ecosystems are being destroyed – rainforests have been absolutely eliminated, species are dying. We want to preserve the world for as long as we can."
Now teenagers as young as 17 believe many lifestyle choices, including the option to have children, are being taken away from them as a result of the impending effects of climate change. Kieran Lowlor, 17, studying at New College, said: "It’s getting to the point where it’s not fair to have children, because they will just suffer – which we have to take some responsibility for.
New College student, Louise Foley, 18, added: "It’s affecting our future and people aren’t understanding that – especially people who say ‘I don’t care’ when they want grandchildren. It’s going to affect them, and be worse for them."
Swindon's Mayor, Junab Ali, came to support and greet the young rebels this afternoon. The campaigners were subsequently invited to his offices for tea and cakes. He said: "I fully support them because they are the future – they are the future of this country and the world.
"If the grown adults and I can’t sort anything out for them, it falls on their shoulders. I’m really happy to see them coming out here, standing up as the next generation.
“I’m really grateful to these youngsters – I know they’re taking time off their education, but I think this is a really powerful message to be sent to the local government, and national governments that they’re not going to sit back and let their future be ruined.”
Swindon Borough Council members of a cross-party group will be meeting next week to discuss the current climate change motion. Cabinet Member for Housing and Public Safety, Cllr Cathy Martyn, said: "I think it’s heartening to see their interest and passion in climate change because it’s something that’s vitally important for all of us.
“We’ve set up a cross-party working group that meets for the first time next week, and we’ll take it from there.”
Corporate Director for Communities and Housing at Swindon Borough Council, Steve Jordan, added: "There’s a lot to do and it’s a huge task – how do you make it practical?
"I think Swindon is doing quite a bit around reducing environmental impact – both within our own civic campus and the wider community and that’ll continue to drive us forward.
"We do want to hear from young people today – their view is important to us, and we will be influenced by that. We have to be realistic about what we can do, but the council’s absolutely committed to driving forward on this agenda."