Making change happen: The youth climate movement

Rosie Mills, an 18-year-old sixth form student, explains how her petition helped get a Climate Emergency motion passed by Lancaster City Council – and how a youth-led movement for climate action has developed in the city as a result.

Students in Lancaster strike for climate action
Students in Lancaster strike for climate action

Students in Lancaster strike for climate action

Rosie Mills

Throughout my life, I have been taught that the planet is a responsibility that we cannot discard as a species; I have been taught to love and care for everything and everyone on this speck of dust we call Earth. Yet despite our growing knowledge of the devastating causes and effects of climate change and other environmental destruction, I have only ever seen a minority of adults take any significant action towards mitigating and dealing with the effects of global warming – unsurprisingly, this activism has often been linked to the Green Party, which I have been involved with my entire life thanks to my parents (my mum is a Green city councillor) and my own passion for the environment.

Despite these momentous efforts, it is not enough. We need climate action, and we need it now.

The city of Lancaster has already suffered some of the consequences of climate change. In December 2015, we had an awful flood, a result of the disastrous Storm Desmond. This storm caused flooding all through the centre of Lancaster, as well as other towns and villages in Northern England, including Carlisle. 40,000 homes lost power due to a flooded substation and hundreds of schools were closed for up to a week, while many local businesses were destroyed.

Everyone in Lancaster has vivid memories of the disruption brought about by Storm Desmond, and more recent local floods have reminded us of this destruction. Not only this, Lancaster and the surrounding areas are right next to the coast, and a local village, Heysham, has been predicted to be flooded by the end of the century if we don’t take any action. Climate change is real and it’s already affecting us; this has always scared me. What can the future bring?

Last year, a 15-year-old girl stood outside her parliament in Sweden, demanding climate action. We all know her by now – a young woman who became famous practically overnight for her eye-opening speech at the UN climate conference in Poland. Greta Thunberg started a global movement, led by young people, to get people to listen. We, young people, need to see a global system change to secure our future. We are scared – even more so since the release of the 2018 report from the International Panel on Climate Change, showing we only have until 2030 until our effects on this planet are too devastating for us to pull ourselves back from the brink. Too often, I feel as if we are staring over the edge of a precipice, just clinging on. If we burn more fossil fuels, we will step off the edge.

Due to all this – my passion for the environment, local devastation from climate change, and a rising youth-led movement – when I was approached last November to help Lancaster declare a Climate Emergency, I jumped at the opportunity.

Too often, I feel as if we are staring over the edge of a precipice, just clinging on. If we burn more fossil fuels, we will fall off the edge.

I promptly started a petition titled ‘The young people of Lancaster declare a Climate Emergency’; it asked the council to not only declare a Climate Emergency, but also to try to become carbon zero by 2030, as well as to consult young people about climate change and start a young person’s climate panel. The petition was first released online, and discouragingly only amassed about 150 signatures by the end of December 2018. However, at the beginning of January, I met some students from up at Lancaster University who were willing to help. It took a very big, combined effort from many volunteers – personally, I went around every classroom in our school and asked as many people as possible! People’s enthusiasm was very encouraging, and somehow, we managed to get over 1,500 signatures in about a week, working right up until the deadline.

Rosie Mills speaks to Lancaster City Council
Rosie Mills speaking at the Lancaster City Council meeting

After this excitement, there was a lot of build-up ahead of the Lancaster City Council meeting on 31 January, where my petition would be presented alongside a cross-party motion put forward by local councillors, also demanding a Climate Emergency. There were over 100 people in the audience, with people spilling out the doors – the atmosphere was amazing! I was one of seven speakers; in my speech I emphasised the importance of acting now, saying: “We must work together to allow change, involving everyone of all ages, but especially the young people of today.”

It was a relief at the end of the debate when the councillors voted unanimously to declare a Climate Emergency, even though the final motion did not include a young person’s consultation or climate panel, as we had demanded in the petition. Despite those missing pieces, it was a start. Finally, it seemed people in my community were listening. The experience made me want to carry this momentum on and get young people more involved in preventing climate change in Lancaster.

Rather surprisingly for me, this led to much media attention! The day after the motion was passed, I was interviewed for the Victoria Derbyshire show, in a very fun two hours of my life. It was so strange to see myself and our school on TV and in the national news when the episode aired on 14 February, but I am so pleased that people are interested enough in climate change to take notice. This was followed by an interview with the local Heart radio.

Keeping up momentum

To try and maintain this local drive for change, with some university students I helped to set up Lancaster Youth for Environment (LYFE). We hope to try and hold Lancaster City Council accountable for its decision, and we started this by striking for the climate on 15 February. The national Fridays for Future event inspired this, along with the thousands of young people striking across Europe and the wider world. It was great to see over 50 people in Lancaster striking, from three local high schools as well as university students. We made a lot of noise, chanting and discussing climate change at our strike. This was reported on by the local Heart radio, Beyond radio, Bailrigg radio and BBC North West, who I was interviewed by the night before.

LYFE hopes to hold similar events in future, and in the meantime, we want to encourage people to look at how they can change their own lifestyle to reduce their impact on the environment. You can like LYFE on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and follow our blog for any more details. We plan to hold another strike on 15 March and hope to get even more people involved!

The last few months of campaigning have been a whirlwind – I feel like I’ve had a taste of what my future may hold! Mostly, I’ve learnt that our future is always something worth fighting for, and we can all play a part in that, even if that just means signing a petition.