More recently they have begun to germinate in the United States and the Asia-Pacific region, with thousands turning out Friday morning for the day’s first demonstrations in Australia, New Zealand and several Pacific island countries. The protests then rolled westward as morning arrived in Asia and Europe.
The strikes have underscored a significant generation gap in concern about climate change, particularly in a handful of countries. The 20 warmest years on record have all come in the past 22 years, essentially the lifetime of today’s children and young adults.
In a recent Pew survey, carried out in 26 countries, a significantly larger share of young people said they worried about the threat of climate change, compared to people over the age of 50, in the United States, France, Australia and the Philippines.
In the Pew survey, the generation gap was significant even after statisticians controlled for political affiliations. And in the five years since the global survey began, concern about climate change has swelled overall among Americans, but at a far higher rate among young people. Other surveys have found that younger Republicans to be significantly more concerned about climate change than older members of the party.
Mark Margolin, whose daughter organized a youth climate march in Washington last summer, said he understood the urgency of climate change intellectually but didn’t feel the panic the younger generation feels emotionally. Partly, he said, it’s because he has seen the world overcome other global challenges — the fear of a Cold War nuclear confrontation, for instance.
But also, it’s because parents like him are focused on short term. “I don’t have the fear and panic they do,” he said. “Adults are so focused on, ‘Can I pay the bills, am I going to be able to pay my daughter’s college tuition?’”
Nadia Nazar, 16, from Baltimore, one of the organizers of the Friday rally in Washington, said young people didn’t see the crisis in the same way.
“My generation is first generation that will be significantly affected,” she said. “I want them to understand they’ve been able to live pretty normal lives. If climate changes continues and gets worse and worse then we won’t be able to.”
This article was written by Somini Sengupta in New York, with additional reporting by Vicky Xiuzhong Xu in Sydney, Australia; Christopher Schuetze in Berlin; and Palko Karasz in London.