School Strike 4 Climate leader Sophie Handford on why she's protesting

The School Strike 4 Climate is taking place across New Zealand on Friday with thousands of children expected to skip school to protest climate inaction. 

This is the third strike with two previous protests in March and May attracting tens of thousands of students.

National coordinator Sophie Handford told Newshub this is expected to be the biggest one yet, with adults also invited to march alongside students. 

Handford said the response to the strikes has been amazing. But she said leading the strikes hasn't come without its struggles.

From anxiety, criticism, and frustration, Handford said climate activism can be gruelling. 

How have people reacted?


There has been a little bit of negativity surrounding the tactics we have decided to use - that's mostly been around the strike action. 

We don't give those people much of our attention because we have better things to be doing. 

There has definitely been more support than negativity but we are thankful for the negative responses because it has helped us raise awareness.

Why did you decide to lead the strike?


At the end of last year, I saw what Greta Thunberg was doing and saw the strikes in Australia, so I did a bit of research and found nothing in New Zealand.

I made a few posts on social media and rallied some people together and we kind of built from there.

Does Greta Thunberg inspire you? 


She's such an inspiration and I think that we should be so thankful she's in our world because I'm not sure if any of this would have kicked off without her.

Greta is only one person but look at the impact she has made. 

I find it so inspiring that someone so young is able to say it straight and just be able to put these global leaders right in their place.

I hope they feel guilty, I hope they feel the fear that she feels every single day and I hope they look at her as the courageous leader that she is. 

A split screen picture of Greta Thunberg protesting outside Swedish Parliament and giving a speech at the UN.
Swedish Climate Activist Greta Thunberg. Photo credit: Getty Images

What do you want people to take away from the strikes?


In this conversation, your voice matters, so add your voice. 

Whether that be turning up to the strike or signing an open letter or designing a poster about climate change, take that first step even if it feels overwhelming. 

I think it's really important to realise the scale of climate change and just do something. 

We are running out of time to make that impact that we need to in order to pass the planet on so it is crunch time. 

Can you tell me a little bit about your demands and why you chose them? 


Our overarching demand is that the New Zealand Government does everything in its power to limit warming to no more than 1.5 degrees because that's the known threshold for livable future on this planet.

We then have five demands that sit under that: 

  1. Parliament declare a climate emergency
  2. All parties support and pass an ambitious Zero Carbon Act 
  3. The Government ceases all exploration and extradition of fossil fuels 
  4. The Government invests in building a renewable and regenerative economy now
  5. The Government gives practical effect to its responsibilities throughout the Pacific

Will you keep striking until your demands are met? 


We are committed to being in this until our demands are met 100 percent. We are still determining whether that looks like more strikes. 

We are definitely open to exploring more tactics because achieving our demands is the main goal. 

There has been criticism over the fact that the strike is on a school day, why did you decide to strike on Friday?


If we did this on the weekend it would not create the same kind of conversation around the issue and we are not putting anything at risk. 

By doing it on a Friday, we are taking a stand and saying that we are not willing to learn facts while our leaders continue to ignore the facts and science behind climate change.

None of the learning we do will matter if we don't have a future on this earth. 

Do you think we are moving in the right direction? 


I think we are but nowhere near fast enough and nowhere near as ambitious as we need to be. 

There are some MPs who are really committed and passionate about climate justice, but there are still a few that we have yet to win over. 

How did you get involved in climate activism? 


For the past four or five years, I have always felt that climate anxiety but didn't really have a label to put on it until I heard Greta talking about it.

It was like a switch flipped in me seeing a 16-year-old girl that is acknowledging the urgency and actually doing something about it.

It is frustrating that it is taking a group of young people to wake up an entire world. It shouldn't be up to us young people. 

There are eight-year-olds and 10-year-olds in the group and they shouldn't feel like they have to do that, they should be on the playground, but instead, they are feeling totally overwhelmed and paralysed by this crisis.