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Climate / Youths strike from school to call for climate action

The Eco Youth Shetland protestors marching in Lerwick in June. Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland News

SHETLAND schoolchildren took to the streets of Lerwick on Friday morning as part of a ‘strike’ to call for more action on climate change.

The protest organisers meeting the council. Left to right: Isla Johnson, SIC chief executive Maggie Sandison, Laura Bisset and Celestine Verdcourt-Lawrence.

Over 100 youths took part in the action, which left Anderson High School at 11.45am before heading to Lerwick Town Hall.

The protestors met with Shetland Islands Council chief executive Maggie Sandison along with a few high-profile councillors before a public Q&A session was held.

The march is part of the global youth movement for children to ‘strike’ from school on Fridays to encourage decision-makers to take more action on the climate.

The local protest was organised by teenagers Celestine Verdcourt-Lawrence, Laura Bisset and Isla Johnson under the name of Eco Youth Shetland, with the majority of marchers studying at the Anderson High School.

Shetland Islands Council said teaching staff were instructed to give ‘authorised absence’ to any pupil wishing to take part.

Climate protestors outside Lerwick Town Hall.

The protestors are keen to see the council declare a ‘climate emergency’ like Orkney Islands Council did in May, while on a wider scale they are keen to see the voting age lowered to 16.

The SIC stopped short of declaring an emergency, however, as Sandison said the local authority needs a plan of action before making the statement.

But councillors offered Shetland’s young people greater involvement in environmental issues going forward.

The march ironically took place on the same day four cruise ships were in town, visibly pumping fumes into the air.

Protestors mustered at the Anderson and donned hi-vis jackets before heading up Hayfield Lane – past the home of the SIC’s children’s services.

Holding banners and shouting about the importance of action on the climate, the group walked past Bell’s Brae Primary School and down Cockatoo Brae towards the Town Hall.

School children have gone on strike to protest for more action on environmental issues. More on www.shetnews.co.uk later…

Posted by Shetland News on Friday, 21 June 2019

They were met by a handful of councillors and members of the public, including some of the cruise ship passengers who were keen to record the march on their mobile phones.

Speaking after the Q&A with the council, which had a headcount of around 150, the march’s organisers said the day “went really well”.

“We had lots of people coming, they were all really responsive and they all wanted to be here,” Johnson said.

“Everyone was so on board with everything that we said,” Bisset added. “Everyone listened. It was just amazing.”

“We really appreciate all the support – we were not expecting this at all,” Verdcourt-Lawrence said.

At the Q&A Sandison said she was “delighted” to welcome the protestors to the Town Hall, reassuring them that the council was “here to listen”.

Verdcourt-Lawrence told the attendees that “it is undeniable climate change is a major issue”.

The trio of organisers pointed to the effect it is having on wildlife, while other issues like plastic and meat consumption were also raised.

Chairman of the council’s environment and transport committee Ryan Thomson said “we have to figure out what we can do” before declaring a climate emergency.

He said Shetland has its own issues to contend with, such as the “diesel-guzzling” inter-island ferries on the council’s books.

Council leader Steven Coutts, meanwhile, stressed the importance of working collaboratively on the issue.

“It’s not the council’s climate, it’s everybody’s climate,” he said.

Councillor George Smith, who chairs the education and families committee, invited the three organisers to have their say at a future meeting of the committee.

He also committed to offering an agenda item at each meeting to allow young people to raise issues.

After the Q&A in the Town Hall. From left to right: SIC leader Steven Coutts, education and families committee chairman George Smith, deputy leader Emma Macdonald, Maggie Sandison, environment and transport chairman Ryan Thomson, march organisers Laura Bisset, Celestine Verdcourt-Lawrence and Isla Johnson. Photo: SIC

Sandison also said that the Shetland Partnership, which brings together organisations and agencies across the isles, can work with the Eco Youth team to form a sub-group relating to environmental issues.

It was up to Smith to give the discussion more political tone, encouraging people to make a stand against large companies.

He said “big business and capitalist society” has not been interested in environmental concerns and instead is more focused on the bank balance.

There was no mention of the cruise ships, however, or the role of the oil industry.

There were a handful of questions from the floor from youngsters, with one asking why solar panels were not built into the new Anderson High School, while another raised the issue of deforestation.

Sandison concluded the event by stressing the council intends to work together closely with youths on the matter.

“I think the councillors who have been lucky enough to hear you today have really heard your message,” she said.

“We are working together to make sure we respond and act.”