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Climate strikes: U.S. students skipping school as part of global action

Protests organized by children and teens in almost every state will call for the implementation of the Green New Deal.
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Thousands of students across the United States were expected to stage school walkouts Friday, joining peers around the world to demand action on climate change.

Max Prestigiacomo, who is organizing a demonstration in Madison, Wisconsin, said there was a real disconnect between what was being taught in the classroom — that climate change poses an existential threat — and how politicians were reacting.

"The political climate in the States right now is doing nothing," Prestigiacomo, 17, said. "They're bargaining with our future."

School strikes organized by U.S. children and teenagers in almost every state call for the implementation of the Green New Deal, a plan championed by Democrats such as New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that would implement a complete transition to renewable energy by 2030.

Similar strikes are planned in almost 100 countries.

The goal to reduce carbon emissions is in line with a 2018 special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that warned global carbon emissions had to drop 45 percent below 2010 levels by 2030 to avoid devastating consequences for the planet.

Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg says she has decided to take matters into her own hands because she recognizes that these risks could take hold within her lifetime. After skipping class to protest outside the Swedish parliament last fall, she addressed the United Nations Climate Change conference in December and won the attention of political leaders and her peers worldwide.

Thunberg’s Fridays for Future weekly school strikes have inspired thousands of students to hold demonstrations across Europe and further afield — from Uganda to Australia.

Last month, strikes in Britain saw thousands of students pour onto the streets of London, stopping traffic outside the country's Parliament.

Prestigiacomo said students in Wisconsin planned to march on the state Capitol and hold sit-ins in offices of legislators.

"When our president ... goes on television and says everything we're taught in school is wrong, how do you think that makes students feel?" he said. "All I want is evidence-based politics."

President Donald Trump's denial of climate change is contributing to the spread of misinformation about the issue, he said, adding that both adults and students have asked him why he's striking for an issue that is "a hoax."

In criticizing the Trump administration and backing a Democrat-led proposal that may alienate some youth, the movement has showed that it is politically adept, according to John Barry, a professor of green political economy at Queen's University Belfast.

"The climate strike might lose Republican-leaning, conservative students for the price of getting a good shot of the Green New Deal being implemented," he said. "It's a strategic issue."

Unlike some social movements that begin big and die out, the steady growth of the climate strikes globally indicates students are in it for the long haul, he said.

It's too early to tell if the protests will result in significant change compared to historic social movements organized around civil rights or wars, he added. But the youth of the protesters, their ability to organize online and the international nature of their movement have already set them apart.

"This is unprecedented," Barry said.

The movement is gaining some traction in the political arena. Sixty students were invited to the European Parliament in Strasbourg earlier this week ahead of a climate change debate.

Lilly Platt, 10, from the Netherlands was among the attendees. She told NBC News that although students were able to present their case to officials ahead of the debate, the meeting was "disappointing" because they were not allowed to participate in the formal discussion. Also, fewer than 40 of the 751 members of Parliament attended the discussion.

Lawmakers did acknowledge the student protests in Wednesday's debate, Lilly added, and with parents and grandparents signing up to join Friday's protests in Holland, she is optimistic demonstrators are making a difference.

"Children are now having their voices heard," she said. "People aren't just saying these children should be in school, they are actually listening."