Cop26: 'Fighting to save our life-support systems isn’t radical at all,' says Thunberg

Patrick Freyne meets activists at a protest in Glasgow, as Greta Thunberg addresses the crowd

Outside the Cop26 summit in Glasgow a group of people are singing, led by a woman holding a staff and clad in a long patchwork coat.

Sandy Stratford, who is holding a corner of the coat like a wedding train, explains how they walked from London, sleeping in church halls and tents, collecting a new patch at each stop.

The song is called The Coat of Hope and it was written by Barbara Keal, the woman with the staff. They invite delegates to wear the coat in solidarity with those “who have been affected most by climate change but are least to blame”.

I put on the coat and they sing for me.


Today is the day of the Fridays for Future protest which gathers in Kelvingrove park at 11am. By the time it reaches George Square, three hours later, organisers estimate that 25,000 people were in attendance.

Eleven-year-old Honor McCardle, here with her sister Stella and mum Julie, describes a video she saw. “It made me cry,” she says. “A million animals are facing extinction. There’s a garbage patch in the pacific ocean the size of Texas.”

So she writes letters to politicians and takes part in demonstrations. "I really look up to Greta Thunberg," she says.

Kane Kinnear wears a dinosaur suit he got for Christmas. Why did the 13-year-old want a dinosaur suit?

“Oh, he’s just that kind of person,” says his mother, Pearl. Kane’s 16-year-old sister Scarlett is also here. She’s got a sign that says, “When the chips are down” and it has a model seagull on top. “It’s important to show we, as young teenagers, care,” says Scarlett.

Pearl has a large paper thistle emerging from a sign that says: “Thistle be the end of us.”

As a family they’ve been to Black Lives Matter Protests and Independence marches. “I think it’s important to maintain their right to protest,” says Pearl.

This is a good-humoured event with lots of families and young teenagers. A row of indigenous climate activists are up front and there’s a blue rope cordon held around them and some other protesters.

Greta Thunberg keeps a low profile in the middle of that circle until she’s spotted by some teenage boys who rush over to the blue rope (“Greta! Greta!” they cry). Then she’s spotted by some overly aggressive photographers who are old enough to know better (“Greta! Greta!” they cry).

The youthful stewards try to block their view until one of the photographers tries throwing a punch. There is, for a minute, some angry shouting. That’s the only real drama.

The police keep more distance than they did at the Extinction Rebellion protest earlier in the week. Kettling children probably wouldn’t look great.

Fridays for Future is a youth movement but not everyone here is young. Dick Vinelic walked from Groningen to Rotterdam and then walked chunks of the way from London to Glasgow to be here. This is some achievement given that he’s 76 years old and needs the help of a rollator. He’s dressed as a magician with a glittering green top hat and cape and has a big bag on his rollator which, he says, contains his “hotel room”.

He’s part of the group Urgenda which successfully sued the Dutch government in 2019 for insufficiently curtailing carbon emissions.

A group dubbing themselves Irish Doctors for the Environment hold a banner that says “The Climate Crisis = The Health Crisis”.

They've spent the week meeting organisations like Médecins Sans Frontières, the National Health Service and the World Health Organisation. The NHS has committed to become carbon neutral, says spinal surgeon Derek Cawley, but the Health Service Executive doesn't even measure its emissions. "If healthcare was a country, it would be the fifth highest footprint in the world."

Consultant psychiatrist Jeannette Goldman says that the fight has moved on from convincing people that the science is real. “The original war was against denial. Now it’s a war against despair.”

Onlookers cheer

Vilte Vaitkute is holding an embroidered banner that says, “Burn the system not the planet”. She’s here with her friends from a workers co-operative called Media Coop. They’re hosting activists from all over the world via the Human Hotel network. “We’ve opened our homes and our fridges,” she says. “They’re saving the planet. It’s the least we could do.”

The march moves along slowly. Onlookers hang out of windows and cheer. Children’s lawyer Drew McCusker is wearing a huge red box that’s made to look like a thermometer and spends much time having his photograph taken with children. “My brother wanted to dress as the scariest thing he could think of for Halloween, so he dressed as global warming,” he explains.

He borrowed it for the protest, “because children here are using their voices asking us adults to help support their future”.

When everyone arrives at George Square, some people clamber up on monuments to get a view and tired children are hoisted aloft on shoulders. The speakers are mainly activists from developing countries.

Pakistani campaigner Ayisha Siddiqa talks about losing family members to water pollution. A group of indigenous activists from the Amazon talk about the deaths of activists and the destruction of the rainforests. A young socialist paraphrases James Connolly: "Our demands are modest. We only want the Earth."

Greta Thunberg arrives on stage to huge cheers. She dismisses Cop26 as “a global north greenwashing festival” and criticises the media for not holding politicians to account over broken promises and the continued extraction of fossil fuel.

She tells the crowd their leaders have failed them and that they must take the future into their own hands.

“Some people say that we are being too radical. But the truth is that they are the ones who are radical. Fighting to save our life-support systems isn’t radical at all. Believing that our civilisation as we know it can survive a 2.7 degree or a 3 degree hotter world, on the other hand, is not only extremely radical, it’s pure madness.”