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A 14-year-old New Zealander's response to her principal on climate change strikes: I'm doing it for my future

16-year-old Swedish native Greta Thunberg on strike from school to raise awareness for climate change.

In response to school strikes by students planned across the country, Secondary Principals Association president and Pakuranga College principal Michael Williams has said the students' impact on climate change would be "probably zero" and the students are "wasting good learning time" and will be marked as truant if they don't have their parents' permission to take the day off to strike. Pakuranga College student and 14-year-old Holly Rowsell shares the letter she sent him regarding his reaction to the climate change school strikes, and outlines why being marked as truant is wrong as her and other students aren't doing it to wag class, they're doing it to give power to the youth's voice on an issue that impacts most on them. 

A note from Vaughan Fergusson: Below is an email my daughter Holly wrote to her school, Pakuranga College, about their disappointing stance on the upcoming climate strike. She has not had a response to the email but today her principal gave statements to the media in this article. He’s missing the point and is in my opinion a bad example as a leader, and his actions and statements explain why we are finding ourselves where we are with our climate. With Holly’s permission, here is her email. If more and more 14-year-olds took a rational view like this, then we may have a hope of leaving them a good future.

Hello,

I have become aware of the statement the school has made in regards to the student environmental strike that will be taking place on the 15th of March. Reading this announcement has saddened me greatly as I would have hoped our school would have been more open to fighting this issue.

The threat of global warming and climate change on our world is growing so much larger and it seems as though no major action is being taken. We have seen drastic impacts on the world, with sea levels rising and temperatures dropping. The world's leading scientists have agreed that we are growing closer and closer to a problem that cannot be reversed.

While New Zealand is fairly up to speed with some of the environmental movement that has been happening lately, especially with things like plastic usage, we are still at large risk when it comes to the affects of climate change. Especially with things like water, considering we have multiple coastal towns.

Also, due to our large part in the dairy industry, we are releasing insane amounts of methane and other gases into our atmosphere. If we were to make a change, it could have a huge impact.

Having students being involved in this protest makes a huge difference as the youth's voices are often the most powerful. I feel as though we are also the most affected when it comes to environmental issues as we have to live with the consequences our whole lives and see the younger generations grow up living with mistakes we could have fixed.

In the school's address to the strike, they recommended joining the environmental council. While having a stronger environmental council would be amazing, this suggestion seems to miss the point of the strike. The reason students want to strike is not so they can have a day off and meet with their friends, it is to seek further action being made.

The environmental council is not likely to garner as much attention or response from powerful people as this strike would. If these issues are to be fixed, we need greater attention, specifically from governments and world leaders. This will be a way to get these issues sorted. Protests and strikes have been proven to make change. In New Zealand, we have seen this in the past with the Nuclear war and apartheid protests. These made a huge impact on our society and changes our country for the better.

As teachers, you understand the power of a strike as you have seen what it has done for you. You have been given the opportunity to fight for an issue that effects you. While we do not work and have no reason to strike for those issues, this for us is a much bigger problem and we should be given the same chance to fight.

I understand fully that missing school is a big problem, I try to avoid it where I can. But the misunderstanding is that this is being seen as wagging or just missing school for the sake of missing school.

This march is planned to be happening worldwide and is run by an incredibly inspiring young woman named Greta Thunberg. She is an incredibly influential person when it comes to the environment and, through her activism, has had major discussions with some of the worlds top leaders. She is someone that myself and I’m sure many others look up to. Students who strike are not doing it for nothing, they are doing it for her, what she stands for, and ultimately the earth that we live on.

While some students can give you their word that they will be attending the protest, I know it is not enough to trust that they won't take advantage of the situation. Regardless, its disappointing that a decision around this issue was made without a discussion with the student body, considering its an issue that students in our school will care a lot about.

This is why I propose a way that the school can make sure students are not abusing the strike while we can still feel as though our voices are being heard. We have seen other schools across the country support this strike and empower their students, and it would be amazing if our school took a leadership position and did the same.

I was hoping I could work with you to organise a field trip of sorts. Students who are interested in the strike could take a sign up form and get it signed off by their parents. We could organise a way of transport to and from the protest, having a small fee to cover a bus cost. This way the strike can be used as a teaching moment, emphasising the issue of global warming and climate change. It also makes sure students feel as though they have a strong voice and that they can make a difference, as at the moment the school is not giving off that message.

This is a big ask and I know that it would be difficult to organise and may not be let ahead, but I would like to ask that we try. I am happy to take responsibility for organisation and getting the idea passed. If we do not try and come up with another way, I feel as though students who truly care for the environment will not be deterred by the though of an unmarked absence and are likely to attend the protests regardless.

If you could get back to me and we could discuss this further that would be incredible :) I appreciate you taking the time to read this through and I thoroughly hope we can come to a solution.

Holly

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