Young ’uns aren’t kidding about climate change
Cape pupil's dedication to the global climate strike was inspired by a trip around Africa in a truck powered by veggies
Ruby Sampson is excited to be missing school on Friday; instead of learning about the world she will be trying to save it.
The 17-year-old from Cape Town is one of thousands teaming up to join a global climate strike aimed at protesting about the lack of urgency around climate change mitigation.
It’s a youth-led initiative started by Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg, who skipped school to protest outside the Swedish parliament one Friday in August 2018 – and who is still doing it every week.
Their message is clear: If grown-ups won’t do something to minimise human impact on the environment, the children are going to have to step in.
“We have left it too late – it is now about trying to minimise the impact of climate change, not avoid it,” said Ruby, who has been rallying her fellow Cape Town pupils over the past few months.
With the help of her mother, Ruby has obtained funding to provide transport for township school kids to join the climate strike outside parliament. Similar protests have been organised in Johannesburg, Durban and East London.
Ruby herself is no stranger to missing class. From the age of 11 she spent three years travelling around Africa with her family, a mission conceived by her comedian father Mark Sampson and writer mother Sam Pearce, who set out to raise environmental awareness.
Ruby said the trip was largely responsible for her concerns around climate change. “In the last few years I have travelled over 40,000km and have seen first-hand the dramatic effects of climate change,” she said.
“I have seen that this is definitely something that is hitting us now. I was practically forced to come to the realisation that everything is not fine.
“People and cattle are dying because they are not getting enough water. Hundreds of thousands of people are having to move,” she said, citing numerous other examples such as mudslides in Sierra Leone and the southwards expansion of the Sahara desert.
While she may not have attended formal classes during this time, Ruby and her two siblings were treated to home schooling in exotic locations, with regular reading and fieldwork sessions led by her mother.
However, Ruby opted to return to Cape Town in 2018 to prepare for a formal matric qualification, which she is now doing at Wynberg Girls’ High.
Upon her return she was surprised by most people’s lack of commitment to sustainable living. She was also shocked to discover that SA is the 14th biggest producer of carbon emissions due to our continued reliance on coal-fired power stations.
Ruby said her research into the subject had led her to question the government’s commitment to clean energy, and Friday’s protest would hopefully draw attention to the need for greater government commitment.
“I am responsible for educating my peers and raising awareness,” Sampson said.
Is she worried about trouble from teachers for skipping school on Friday? Not at all. The teachers are joining in, with about 200 kids from her school.
Similar protests are planned in 105 countries.
Sampson said she has been inspired by her parents’ Africa Clockwise trip in a modified truck, a mission beset by problems but which has helped raise awareness about the continent’s ecological predicament.
Their 1978 ex-SA Defence Force truck contains a heat-exchange plate that allows hot water from the radiator to heat waste vegetable oil to drive the engine.
Pearce, who is writing a blog about the family’s trip around Africa, said: “Ruby has spent most of the last two years at boarding school infuriated at the shallowness of her generation, and is thrilled that Greta [Thunberg] finally provided the spark they needed.”