Greta Thunberg's Climate Strikes Are Moving Online, Due to Coronavirus

Greta Thunberg and young activists. Where are the old ones? (Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
© Greta Thunberg and young activists. Where are the old ones?. FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

It's no longer safe for groups of people to gather in public places.

Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg has achieved global fame for her Fridays for Future protests, now held weekly in cities around the world by similarly inspired youth. And wherever Thunberg herself shows up, even bigger crowds gather, such as the February rally in Bristol, England, that attracted ten thousand people.

In light of the spreading coronavirus, however, Thunberg has now told her fellow protesters (and 4.1 million Twitter followers) that the large group gatherings need to stop in order to reduce risk of contagion. She tweeted on March 11, "Now the experts urge us to avoid big public gatherings for a better chance to #flattenthecurve and slow the spreading of the coronavirus."

'Flatten the curve' refers to lowering the rate of infection to spread out the epidemic. As explained by the Centers for Disease Control, "This way the number of people who are sick at the same time does not exceed the capacity of the healthcare system." Thunberg's advice aligns with that of numerous other organizations, businesses, and governments that have also canceled group gatherings and events.

Thunberg went on in a series of tweets: "We young people are the least affected by this virus but it's essential that we act in solidarity with the most vulnerable and that we act in the best interest of our common society... So keep your numbers low but your spirits high and let's take one week at [a] time." Instead, Thunberg recommended joining in digital strikes on Fridays. People can post pictures of themselves holding signs, using the hashtags #DigitalStrike and #ClimateStrikeOnline, until the situation improves and in-person strikes can resume.

Her words bring to mind those of UN Secretary General António Guterres, who earlier this week urged people not to forget about the fight against climate change while they're distracted by the coronavirus. "The disease is expected to be temporary, [but] climate change has been a phenomenon for many years, and will 'remain with us for decades and require constant action.'"

Both crises require immediate attention and drastic action, and the coronavirus response is demonstrating that we do have the ability to rally as nations and take unprecedented measures in times of great uncertainty. Hopefully we will learn lessons from this experience that can then be applied to keeping greenhouse gas emissions below the 2-degree Celsius limit set at the Paris Convention in 2015.