Student Climate Activist / Founder of Fridays For Future Limerick group
In August 2018, a fifteen-year-old Swedish girl took time off school to stand outside government buildings to ask for action on what she called the ‘climate crisis.’ Soon, other students began to join her, and together Greta Thunberg and her fellow strikers organised a school climate strike movement under the name Fridays For Future. There has been some form of protest in some country or another, every week since.
A network of Irish student climate activists was formed under Fridays For Future Ireland, and from that, local FFF groups were established right across the country to strike for climate change. Their aim is:
to force the Irish government into taking action on climate change in Ireland, we want our government to align itself with its commitments to the Paris Agreement and to do their part in lowering our emissions to the point where we can limit global climate change to a 1.5 degree average warming target.
In Limerick, fourteen-year-old Saoirse Exton first became aware of the severity of the climate crisis after she heard about the thousands of Australian students who went on strike on 30 November 2018. By researching what was going on, Exton came across Greta Thunberg and like many, was inspired into action.
‘The climate crisis is the most important issue that has faced the human race EVER.’
‘Sick of the negligent government and the dying planet’ she reached out to FFF Ireland and was told that there was no local group in Limerick, but this didn’t stop her. After considering where would be best to draw attention to her protests, she made some posters, started up some social media accounts and from there, the Fridays For Future Limerick group was born. Currently (Sep 2019) Exton does the majority of the social media work (she manages a Twitter, Instagram and Facebook account, as well as a website) but the group is quickly determining how this workload can be divided amongst the members equally. She also does a lot of planning within the group, while also encouraging others to join her, by public speaking. While initially Exton used to strike for the entire day every Friday, she has since moved into her Junior Cert year and has had to shorten the time she spends striking each week but insists that ‘I’m still here!’
‘The days were work-filled, hot and long, but after them we got tasty vegan food and a swim in Lake Geneva, which was incredible!’
Because the FFF movement was reaching an unprecedented scale with strikes worldwide, it was decided that for one week in early August, members from more than 37 countries would meet, which became known as the Summer Meeting in Lausanne Europe (SMILE). The meeting aimed ‘to create a global cohesion and coordination through several conferences, workshops and discussions. For our future, for a better society, for our planet.’ Exton, Caitlín and Roisín ní Chaoindealbhain all represented FFF Limerick and attended meetings with up to 400 other people from around the world at which the ‘demands, strategic goals and values and principles of FFF Europe’ were discussed. Whilst there, they met Greta Thunberg, who Exton remarked was quite a lot smaller in person than one might think and made friends with students from all over Europe.
‘Unity is the key to overcoming the climate crisis because people power is the only way. We have to put aside our individual differences and band together to send a message to the ones in power that enough is enough, and we want change.’
Exton is a true believer in unity and people power when it comes to tackling the climate crisis. She quoted the findings of the Carbon Majors Report which found that ‘just 100 companies have been the source of more than 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988.’ ‘How can we overcome the powerful?’ she wondered. ‘By binding together and pitching all our little bits of power in. We will become more powerful than the rich companies killing our planet.’
‘It’s amazing to think that our protests, here in Limerick, have an effect on people from different parts of the world.’
Generally, FFF Limerick have had a good response on the ground, and plenty of support from students and adults alike – on more than one occasion the student strikers have been offered punnets of strawberries by passers-by. Exton has been particularly appreciative of the Brazilian people who have stopped to talk to her about the Amazon Rainforest. She said that they in turn have appreciated the fact that small groups in places like Ireland care enough to go out and try to bring as much attention to the rainforest fires as possible and demand change from their government.
On 20 September 2019, a mass school strike is organised to take place across the globe, with nine strikes confirmed across the island of Ireland alone. Exton has been busy helping to organise a strike in Limerick, with the theme: Unity. Anyone attending will be asked to assemble at Arthur’s Quay at 1pm before heading through the streets to City Hall ‘for speeches, music and rallying.’ While FFF Limerick protest in the area every week, this will be the first time they march through the streets. In order that as many students strike as possible, another student activist from FFF Limerick, Iona Logan - with the help of her mother - drafted a letter to the Limerick City school management boards and principles regarding the upcoming strike. In the letter, it was mentioned that education on the climate crisis should be mandatory in their schools and that they hoped for their support at the 20 September strike. Appended to the letter was about fifty signatures ‘from a really wide range of Limerick people, young and old.’ As of 11 September, they had not received a response.
‘Your goal is to achieve climate justice wherever you live!’
Like all student strikers, Exton is eager for more people to get involved on the climate issue. She recommends doing the following:
· Research; Read up on things, follow climate strikers from all over the world, read the latest FFF news, follow websites, etc.
· Plan; begin planning where and when you are going to start your strike. Usually a very central place is good, where you can catch the attention of media and passers-by easily. People generally protest in front of local/ national/ international Government buildings, so politicians going into work will see you protesting.
· Strike; write letters to local/ national/ international politicians and media about the climate, write to your school, speak to your boss or your union and try and get them to join for the big strikes.
The stress and seriousness of the climate crisis – and trying to resolve it – can become overwhelming, as Exton is aware. While keeping the end goal in mind, she tries not to do so much as to get burnt out and keeps her supporters close-by.
If you want to follow the work being done by Saoirse and her fellow students strikers, you can find them on Twitter (@Fridaysforfut18), Instagram (@fridaysforfuture.limerick) and blog (fridaysforfuturelimerick.home.blog).
If you’re in Ireland and want to get involved, you can contact: Info@FridaysForFuture.ie
Thanks to Saoirse Exton and her mam Geraldine, for talking to me about FFF Limerick.
Fridays For Future Ireland, online at fridaysforfuture.ie [accessed 11 Sep. 2019].
Smile For Future, online at smileforfuture.eu [accessed 11 Sep. 2019].
The Guardian, 10 July 2017.