Fridays for Future Climate Education Advocacy: What we wish we knew


Who are we? 

Fridays for Future Climate Education is an activist branch of the global Fridays for Future movement. Our primary goal is to mobilise actors in the education sector to introduce climate education as a core structural element to educational curricula. 

Climate education 

A comprehensive curriculum rooted in sustainability and fostering humanity’s connection to nature while providing a holistic understanding of the ongoing climate and biodiversity crisis, its underlying causes and consequences, as well as empowering students to actively engage in creating a just, sustainable society. 

Our mission 

Pushing ministers of Education to make Climate Education a core element of the curriculum and through our 8 demands. 

Our practices 

Online lobbying mobilising other organisations and campaigning ahead of international conferences 

Participating in international conferences and creating material for other organisations to adapt climate education to their demands. 

“Stories on the Inside” 

a. Consensus making 

As it happens between organisations, disagreements on strategies, schedules and priorities affect the internal functioning of organisation of movements 

In non hierarchical movements, meaning those that do not have one single person calling the shots, there are continuous discussions and negotiations not only concerning the decisions but also on the decision-making practices themselves. There are divisions concerning goals, priorities and stances to international issues which have the potential to damage coordinated movements and their cohesion without necessarily making them inactive. The bigger question is in which way do we decide on these issues? 

In non hierarchical social movements and in highly mobile activist groups, where youth members have school, exam periods and burnouts due to the overcharge of work they get through their activism, potential absences are a difficult thing to manage. Do we make decisions on an absolute consensus or proportional basis of the overall number of our active members? Do we decide on the basis of who is there in that singular moment of decision-making? What if some activists are inactive for a short term due to a heavy workload in their school or university, but important decisions on reactions, future priorities and practices are being made? Is it better to exclude them from the decision making process, or simply wait for them to be fully active again? In some cases this would be a fair thing to do, since some members that have to be inactive for a short period of time can be the core of activist teams or have a symbolic importance to the movement. At the same time, what happens with the potential loss of opportunity in international activities, conferences and general areas of participation? 

b. Mental Health & Motivation 

Youth activism is de facto part time. If it’s not part time, then it has been professionalised, but that is a discussion for another day. But which time? Whose time? Where do we set boundaries of work and rest? Activism is a mentally and physically draining activity. It requires constant work in areas in which young activists are self taught. Producing videos, creating subtitles, editing videos, working on graphics, writing speeches, policy briefs and doing financial management are some of them. At the same time it creates health barriers. Extra work sometimes leads activists to sleep fewer hours and in some cases not have the time for specific meals. In international conferences specifically, the times where youth activists have to exchange a meal in order to attend an activity or important meeting are countless. Perhaps the harshest part to mental health and motivation is that of unsuccessful projects. By unsuccessful projects, we mean those that although significant in mobilising attention, do not lead to significant change in implementing climate transition policies. As activists, we spend most of our free time and our creativity in advocating for a specific issue. Although we meet great people along the way, our personal friendships also take a toll. It is really frustrating when all we have to show for that are some invitations to an international conference where the bare minimum of our demands is achieved. 

An additional point to this, is that through our activism we sometimes feel we fulfil our responsibilities towards the climate crisis. We follow lifestyle politics, meaning, we dress, speak, generally behave in ways that support our activism. We follow an increasingly demanding schedule of activism without the recognition of this lack of balance by our educational institutions. A dilemma thus appears. Firstly, are we dispensable even for a short term break? If we decide to take a break, are we letting go of all the above? The climate crisis does not stop, why should we? At the same time, are we effective if we are constantly in a burnout situation, if our school grades or university performance is affected, if our sleep and nutrition are quite bad? I don’t think any of us have a response to this. But we still keep going positive that the more we communicate these concerns the easiest it is to defend our valuable rest and improve our life quality without damaging our work as activists. 

Team work 

This section is clearly linked to the two above. As simplistic as it may sound, sometimes in youth activist groups the burden of work is not balanced. Distinctions between experienced, and new members, those available in different time zones; those being in school most of the day make balancing impossible. Some people have to work more in being part of the image of a campaign e.g. be the face of most videos, others have to work tirelessly behind the scenes to achieve a specific result because they may be the only ones that have the skill to do so (e.g. video editing). Teamwork is the key to everything we do, but with unbalanced schedules, time and language barriers, sometimes teams don’t work in an equitable manner….and that’s ok. 

Stories of the outside 

a. Thinking strategically and out of the box 

There are a variety of activism tactics to use to amplify our cause, but at times they can be ineffective and time-consuming. Therefore, we must think critically and find effective solutions. There is no manual on how to make effective choices in activist practices. Even if there is one, it’s lying to you. Activist groups, their organisation, the issues that they face and the goals they wish to attain all can simultaneously vary. What exists is a properly understood context, and a reasonable assumption of the capacity of our group. 

– Activism tactics which are common and relatively comfortable practices are a lot of times normalised, therefore their disruptive capacity is greatly minimised. – More effective practices are a lot of times outside the capacity of one organisation of movement (i.e. large protests require time and preparation in order to mobilise and expect people to a certain location.) 

– Accessible practices are sometimes supporting the system which activists go against. For example participation in international conferences as observers puts youth experts in the spot of a secondary expert and secondary citizen. 

– Practices which are expected to be less effective can be improved if layered. That could be holding an informational campaign/event in addition to participating in a social media storm and organising a symbolic protest in front of an institution, company. 

– Experience is crucial in this process, in understanding the limits of certain practices and their potential in certain spaces. 

– School doesn’t teach you how to change people’s minds, but rather how to understand it and in some cases adapt/assimilate that of a social “majority”. Activists are required to unlearn the processes that are thought of as “formal processes of conviction” which are linked to rhetorical ability, access to power and exposure, legitimacy etc. Instead we infiltrate or find our own spaces for influence while not repelling the average citizen with our tactics (unless that is the aim of the tactic itself). 

b. Financial management 

In order to organise actions or lobby nationally and internationally, funds are essential. This requires a thorough search for sponsors and allocating priority areas. Youth activists are called to manage the finances of an international movement before having had the experience to handle their own personal spending as individuals. This might be problematic but it is rarely a problem for most youth activists. Activists are quick to use all available resources to understand the bureaucratic and sometimes legal requirements of holding one’s organisation and movement financially independent. 

From creating the space for and organising potential donations to allocating amounts of money to expenses for the movement and/or its members activists undergo a significant amount of self training. The allocation of potential donations is a significant issue which is sometimes mismanaged. Depending on the stability of a movement, and its members, personal out-of-pocket donations are a common practice (i.e. for the opening of a professional graphic design account, or for starting a website.). Bigger expenses towards members are also a difficult task. One has to understand the practice of lobbying for a donation, the possible forms that might take and the legality of said donation. For example, in which account should money donated to a movement (not an official organisation) be sent? Finally, the above creates issues of internal conflict and in certain cases crises in the legitimization of our decisions. For example, who gets to travel to an international conference if only a relatively small amount is available? The one whose plane tickets will be the cheapest? – lack of geographical representation. The one with the potential to self-fund part of the trip? – lack of socioeconomic representation and class obstacles to activism. The one who is more capable of representing the organisation because she holds a certain experience in a movement and its goals? – sometimes, financially impossible. 

Open discussion questions 

What did you wish you knew when starting your activism? 

What did activism teach you that school could not? 

How would you like to see climate education in the curricula? 

What are the spaces that we would allow intergenerational dialogues? 

– Students should be partially if not totally responsible for shaping their own curricula. With the idea of 20% of curricula being formed in unison by teachers and students in many schools across California and more recently Germany, this sense of autonomy is becoming more and more powerful. 

– Especially in what concerns university spaces we need to transition from standardised testing and curricula which test student performance. Instead we should focus on creativity and student wellbeing. 

– Educational facilities should provide a space for intergenerational exchange and co-learning. Many educators worldwide state that they do not feel appropriately informed about the climate crisis. Young people on the other hand do. It is this informational gap that intergenerational dialogues can bridge, promoting at the same time a communitarian ethos on acting about climate change rather than a hierarchical passing of objective information. 

– Concerning the idea of financial management, many educators do not know how funding is allocated in their own facilities. In schools and universities in Arizona some institutions have commenced a process of participatory budgeting where students have a say in the spending of their school. 

– University spaces are outmoded. The journal publication space is working more on an incentives system (publication of papers, symbolic gain) rather than one of social impact. It is very narrow. We should create different spaces where we “take back the time” we have lost between these outmoded and outdated spaces. 

– We have to fully understand the institutional barriers linked to specific proposals on transforming education spaces. For example one cannot speak about evaluation of school structures and educators in Greece without convincing the syndicates to apply them. 

– Leadership programs are very important but let’s not be misguided by the term leadership. Current and modern leaders are not supposed to be understood by a mode of exceptionalism. The best elements that can be taught are those of social empathy and humility, having a strength in their convictions though credible information and not sheer rhetorical ability. And finally they need to be taught to unlearn an ageist hierarchical understanding of experience.

Find out more about the Festival session Climate Education Advocacy: What we wish we knew here

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