They were out early in front of the Parliament on Friday, and some had camped overnight. As thousands also gathered all over the country for Norway’s biggest school strikes for the climate so far, they faced both ridicule and scoldings from an elder generation of politicians and other adults who still support the country’s oil industry.
Some political declarations of support for the striking school students came this week, but Prime Minister Erna Solberg has claimed the young students should stay in school. Her conservative government coalition does not support the strikes. Torbjørn Røe Isaksen, Solberg’s minister in charge of business and trade, has publicly criticized others’ support for the school strikes, and described some of their rhetoric as “anti-democratic.”
Solberg did concede on Friday, however, that “engaged youth who stand up for the climate and environment should gladden us all,” adding in a statement that her government’s “offensive climate policy” is aimed at coming generations. Her ministers in charge of education and climate and the environment will arrange meetings to listen to ideas from young climate activists.
Solberg’s government, which includes the pro-oil Progress Party, has no intention, however, of meeting the school strikers’ demands to stop issuing licenses for more oil exploration on the Norwegian Continental Shelf or begin phasing out oil production. The young people clamouring for that and other climate initiatives have also been teased and even accused of being naive victims of propaganda.
Much of the ridicule has come from Progress Party politicians like Ole Jacob Johansen from Asker, who even compared the school strikers’ engagement in environmental and climate issues to how children were used in Nazi German propaganda in the 1930s and ’40s. He later deleted his post on social media after criticism that erupted when local newspaper Budstikka reported on it.
One of the initiators of the school strikes in Bergen, Vilja Helle Bøyum, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) how many of her classmates have been subjected to hatred and harassment on social media. They’ve been encouraged to “go on hunger strikes instead, or simply commit suicide,” on the grounds that would be good for the climate.
“One person suggested they should import hundreds of cars, turn on their engines and let them idle, to ruin things for us,” Bøyum said on NRK’s radio program Politisk Kvarter. She called the harassment “disgusting,” and can’t understand how adults could send such messages “to concerned youth trying to save our future” after the elder generation carried out policies that created the climate crisis.
Another local Progress Party politician, Karianne Hansen in Skien, also published a sarcastic post on social media in which she “advised” the young climate advocates what they should do if their parents and teachers were unhappy that they were skipping school on Friday:
“Just tell them that from now on, they won’t need to drive you to school, sports events or to meet friends (because) you’ll bicycle or walk despite the weather. You won’t need a weekly allowance anymore because who wants to be a consumer all the time? Junk food, soft drinks and sweets will be replaced with tap water and broccoli. No more meat. Purchases of clothes, make-up, jewelry … will also be cut because you’ll exchange used clothing with others at school. Holidays to the Canary Islands or Thailand will be cut out, too – now it will only be train travel, pitching a tent in grandma’s garden or just staying home. Your mobile phones won’t be replaced every year and there won’t be any more long showers every day, only five minutes max under the water…”
Hansen claims she meant her Facebook post to be humorous but it met a torrent of criticism, forcing her to stress that she does respect the opinions of children and youth. On Friday, meanwhile, former Progress Party leader Carl I Hagen was criticizing support for the strike from some top city politicians in Oslo: “I think it’s disturbing that the city politician in charge of Oslo schools accepts that the pupils skip school because of a political protest.” The party’s spokesman on climate issues, MP Jon Helgheim, had already blasted the school strike on national radio earlier this week, also claiming that school children were being subjected to “frightening propaganda and climate hysteria. I hope responsible adults will take the time to talk with their children, and calm their fears.”
There were many adults, though, including parents like the author of the Norwegian best-seller The History of Bees Maja Lunde, who were indeed talking with their children and even joining them in the strike. “I support peaceful climate strikes because I fear for the future, for my children and for all others on the planet whether they’re people, animals or insects,” Lunde wrote in a commentary in newspaper Aftenposten on Wednesday. Her book depicts how bees can become extinct by the end of this century, thereby also threatening the entire food supply.
Lunde was also among cultural and academic celebrities in Norway who signed a declaration of support for the recent school strikes nationwide and especially the major ones on Friday. They all claim the Solberg Government and other top national politicians have failed to pay attention to rising objections to the oil industry, and let down the country during what they consider a national emergency.
Another appeal came this week, from more concerned celebrities. “We need civil disobedience to stop the petroleum race,” they wrote in a commentary also published in Aftenposten. They claim oil production and not least oil exploration won’t ensure a secure future for today’s school children, and that Norway needs a “democratic corrective,” on the Conservatives’ and Labour Party-led sides.
“We see (climate strikes) as a means of defending democracy, to challenge the authorities that they’re on the wrong course,” wrote, among others, author Jostein Gaarder, musician Lars Lillo-Stenberg and professor Thomas Hylland-Eriksen.
On Thursday leaders of some of Norway’s biggest trade union federations also expressed support for the striking school students. Even though many of the labour leaders defend the oil industry because of the jobs it generates, they applauded the youngsters’ concern and engagement. “Climate change is one of our time’s greatest challenges, and it’s natural that young people engage themselves in it,” LO leader Hans Christian Gabrielsen told newspaper Dagsavisen. “It sends a powerful signal.”
As many as 20,000 school students and others were expected to take part in the school strikes at more than 70 locations around Norway on Friday, from Longyearbyen on Svalbard in the far north, to Mandal on the tip of Norway’s southern coast. Another large strike was expected in Bergen while Oslo’s was likely to be largest, with security high. Young leaders of the climate strikes remained firm in their convictions:
“The politicians are sacrificing our future for (economic) growth,” Tina Razafimandimby Våge, leader of the strike in Oslo, told Dagsavisen. “I grew up on Madagascar and have seen with my own eyes what’s happening, how the climate is changing and making people’s lives difficult.”
She flatly denied all the claims that she and other children are being unduly influenced by “propaganda,” and she thinks the ridicule and scorn from some politicians was unfair and petty: “It’s okay to disagree, but when they express it in such a sarcastic manner, and hide behind such belittling and power-hungry techniques, it’s difficult to have a debate.”
On Friday she and her classmates received support from a much higher place, when UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres praised the school strikes that began in Sweden and Belgium and have spread worldwide. The strikes, he wrote, “should inspire us all” to act at the next UN climate summit.