Hundreds of UCC students and staff met at the quad at 11:30 on Friday 20 September, listening to a speech by UCC’s deputy president John O’Halloran before joining the school climate strike on Grand Parade.
Last week’s strike for climate, which saw an estimated 15,000 people march through Cork City, called on more direct action from the government to act on climate change. Marching amid calls of “What do we want?” “Climate action!”, UCC students expressed disillusion with the current performance of the government on climate action.
Prof O’Halloran emphasised UCC’s support for the strikes, while addressing a crowd of UCC students and staff, praising protestors for their passion. “Never underestimate the power of what you’re holding in your hands today. Whether it’s a poster or a mission in your heart or it’s something in your mind, never lose sight of that.”
“You lead, we will follow. These changes happened because we’ve listened to the fears and worries of our students. We respected their opinions. This is not for management, this is not for the students, this is for all of us to start taking action.”
“Listen to the scientists, listen to the experts, and take immediate action. We still have the time to avoid the most devastating impacts, but window is narrowing… What future do we want for all our children?”
The University Express spoke to a number of students who attended the protest, almost all of whom expressed dissatisfaction with our parliamentary executive’s approach to dealing with the crisis.
“I’ve been going to protests about climate change since I was in secondary school, and we just need to be doing the same thing again, and again, and again, and there seems to be no major political action” said one student, “Things just seem to be getting worse and worse. Our government is ‘greenwashing’ by declaring a climate emergency, but they don’t seem to back it up with any policy changes, so we’re here to demand that they get off their butts and do something.”
Another student said that the protest was “…the only chance for our voices to actually be heard, because, for the most part, the government don’t really care. So this is the only chance we have to show this is something we actually do care about and we’re willing to march about it.”
The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) and the UCC Students’ Union (UCCSU) also had representatives in attendance, also expressed their support, especially for younger school strikers.
“The Union of Students in Ireland are standing in solidarity with the school strikers today,” Darren Moloney, the USI Southern Regional Officer, told the Express. “It’s important that we are standing in solidarity because this issue is affecting students all across the country. Students are in force today and it’s great to see. We’re here to support school strikers because they started this and it’s important that this continues.”
UCCSU’s president, campaigns officer and education officer were also in attendance. “We are marching out today because the government and all other human beings have not done enough,” said education officer Catherine Dawson, “Politicians have not done enough to stop this climate change that is happening. We are standing in solidarity with all students, including secondary school students who started this movement.”
Following the strikes, Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Richard Bruton said, "I have heard the voices of those protesting today. By being a powerful voice, they are paying testament to the damage that is being done to their inheritance. They have a message for governments but also for every sector of society. Now is the time to take action and protect their future.”
The protests were held in anticipation of the UN Climate Summit, at which Greta Thurnberg gave a scathing speech to gathered world leaders that has now become the subject of both great admiration and criticism. She accused the collected politicians of not doing enough, and of following ‘fairy tales of eternal economic growth’. “For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you’re doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight?”
“To have a 67% chance of staying below a 1.5 degrees global temperature rise – the best odds given by the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] – the world had 420 gigatons of CO2 left to emit back on Jan. 1st, 2018. Today that figure is already down to less than 350 gigatons. How dare you pretend that this can be solved with just ‘business as usual’ and some technical solutions?”
Leo Varadkar announced at the climate summit that Ireland will be ending its use of fossil fuels and stop excavating for oil, although gas exploration would need to continue for the next few “decades” to support the economy.
People have been generally disappointed with the commitments made at the climate summit, with goals far less ambitious and extreme than activists were hoping. “[The] lack of ambition stands in sharp contrast with the growing demand for action around the world,” said Andrew Steer, head of the World Resources Institute.
Ireland is one of the worst performers for implementing climate change reforms in Europe, ranking second-last in its working towards the goals of the Paris Agreement in 2018.