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Cambridge school eco-strikers close out 2020 with plea to end waste

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Youth strikers target Christmas waste on December 18, 2020. Picture: Mike Scialom
Youth strikers target Christmas waste on December 18, 2020. Picture: Mike Scialom

It was a mild way to sign off on 2020 for Cambridge’s youth strikers. The weather was clement, and a socially distanced protest is always going to have less impact than a vast surging throng. And – maybe – it’s been a year for taking stock-taking as much as anything else: such has been the onslaught of the pandemic that everything seemed to be swept aside for a while.

During this year zero for humanity – 1.67 million souls no longer with us due to Covid-19 – we are all survivors, and there was something of the brass neck of survivor-hood on display as the school strikers, orchestrated by the Cambridge Schools Eco Council, gathered outside Shire Hall strike to highlight the amount of waste that takes place during the Christmas period.

The group said: “Each year, consumers in the UK use an average of 227,000 miles of wrapping paper, with over 83km2 of this ending up in our bins. On top of this, two million turkeys, five million Christmas puddings, and 74 million mince pies are disposed of while still edible, causing almost 270,000 tons of food waste during this widely celebrated holiday. We cannot sustain this.

“This year, we need to come together to tackle the huge amount of waste we produce at Christmas. Families can create new ways of being sustainable around the Christmas period. Because of the current global pandemic, we are unable to meet up in large groups, so we do not need to buy as much food and wrap as many presents as we usually do. And, if large households do not have guests staying, they do not need to heat rooms of the house that are left unused.”

Since March, the school strikers have gone virtual: this was their first event, and it took place without speeches, without chanting, without fuss. Speaking to the protesters about what they’ve been up to, most described the changes that have taken place in the education system. One described the slightly surreal experience of being at boarding school and having virtual lessons yards away from their empty classrooms. Another said the requirement to wear masks was tedious: they all understood that these are strange times.

Nico Roman, left, and Jona David, target waste outside Shire Hall. Picture: Mike Scialom
Nico Roman, left, and Jona David, target waste outside Shire Hall. Picture: Mike Scialom

“As this strange year draws to an end,” said a spokesperson, “we would like our community to know how proud we are of them. When faced with a pandemic we have done incredible things purely for the wellbeing of those around us. We have stayed in doors when we would have liked to have gone outside, managed to keep our hands clean and wear masks to do our bit in stopping the virus, and stayed in touch with our neighbours to make sure they’re OK. We have given money, time and energy so we can make it through together. We have treated this crisis like a crisis.

“This is why it disheartens us that we are still failing to stand up to the climate crisis. While we welcome the UK government’s efforts, it is looking very unlikely that the Ten Point Plan will succeed in its aim to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The plan ignores the biodiversity crisis and relies too heavily on new technologies, which engineers and scientists warn are unlikely to save the planet. We know we can tackle a crisis, as we have so well demonstrated in past weeks, but only when communities and individuals come together and do their bit.

“We strike to make our voices heard, to fight for the planet, and for the survival of humanity.”

As comebacks go, it was low-key, but the thing you have to remember about these bright sparks is that a) they are the future and b) they’re smart and c) smart people learn as they go along.

“We had a lovely, safe morning on Castle Mound in our socially distanced groups,” said Junayd Islam, one of the original council members and a veteran climate activist before he’s even legally entitled to buy a lottery ticket or apply for a passport. “We had a lot of support from passers-by and some stunning views. We have stayed off the streets since lockdown began but today has worked as a good experiment for what can be done to fight for climate justice, and we will be sure to optimise this opportunity.

Nico Roman at Castle Hill. Picture: Mike Scialom
Nico Roman at Castle Hill. Picture: Mike Scialom

“We have certainly had a very strange 2020. Since lockdown, we have not been able to march on the streets and we have had to be creative with our campaigning; we have held online strikes with speeches you can find on our YouTube channel, we have had eco seminars and challenges to engage youth across Cambridge. And recently, we have been meeting with Cambridge councillors online to get real action being done for our planet. So far, our seminars and council meetings have been a great success and we look forward to continuing them in the new year.

“We also look forward to doing more direct action on the streets in socially distanced groups. Plans are on the way for a banner drop in January!“

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