Lilly Platt has set up shop outside of the town hall in Zeist, Holland every Friday for the past seventeen weeks, even on days like today when, as she says, “the weather is not all sunshine and rainbows.” She has been holding weekly school strikes almost as long as Greta Thunberg, who is on strike from school for her twentieth consecutive #FridaysForFuture action this week.
Platt has been an environmentalist in her own right for many of her ten years of life. Much of her concern for climate change has to do with animals and thinking about how human activity has compromised their ability to live normal lives. “I love every single animal no matter whether it’s dangerous or ugly, just any animal,” she says. Lilly decided to take action on environmental issues when going for a walk with her grandfather one day in 2015, she began to notice trash covering the ground. She and her grandfather picked up everything they saw. It amounted to 91 pieces of trash, which she then sorted, photographed and posted on social media. In 2018, Lilly picked up 7,794 pieces of trash off the streets of Holland.
One of Lilly’s greatest concerns is how plastic breaks down slowly over time into smaller particles that bombard aquatic ecosystems. In April 2018, Lilly was invited to speak at the Plastic Whale Conference in Norway. There, she visited a place nicknamed Nightmare Bay, where a humpback whale had died earlier in the year after having eaten 30 plastic bags. “What happens when a whale eats plastic is they feel full and they don’t eat and they starve themselves,” Lilly explains. “Every single piece of plastic that has ever been created is still here to this day but not in its original form: in microplastic, and if it sticks around even longer it will turn into nano plastic. And this has become especially dangerous for marine ecosystems because plankton eats it and then fish eat it and then bigger fish eat it and then we eat fish that have microplastic in their stomach and we will have plastic in ours too.” According to The Local, one in five mussels grown on the Norweigan coast contains plastic.
Lilly’s passion for the animals and ecosystems around her has not always been easy. At her former school, Old Sam’s Hill, Lilly was bullied by her classmates because of loving certain, often ugly, animals. There, Lilly says she had one friend who helped her to pick up trash, but in general, “[it] was just awful.” Since then Lilly has started attending the King’s School, where many of her classmates choose to participate in her ongoing clean up efforts. “Every time we walk through the forest to this pond, we pick up plastic. Someone from my school even made us a cart to collect it.” Which is good, she says, because “there’s plastic literally everywhere. On the pavement, in the forest, it’s everywhere.”
In September, Lilly saw a video Thunberg posted of her decision to skip school and strike outside of the Swedish parliament building. “All I could do was clap my hands. I thought it was amazing what she was doing.” That very Friday, she joined Greta on school strike, similarly asking that all world leaders join the Paris Agreement and commit to limit warming to a 1.5 degree Celsius rise from pre-industrial temperatures. In a matter of weeks, Greta joined her in Holland for a strike. The two girls were invited to Brussels to attend a climate rally outside of the European Parliament. And Lilly has carried out her #FridaysForFuture strike on her own, with rotating and sometimes surprise company ever since.
Lilly’s activism has meant she has made friends from Bali to Curaçao on Twitter, Facebook and in person. And although there are many members of her climate family she has yet to meet face-to-face, Lilly always has their back. In November 2018, when thousands of Australian students answered Thunberg’s call to join her in protesting government inaction on climate issues, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison reacted with outrage, all but blasting the young people’s organizing and insisting there be “more learning in schools and less activism.” When she found out about his comments, Lilly recorded a series of videos in support of her fellow climate activists in Australia. “The politicians spoke but the children’s voices are louder,” she said on Twitter. She was also sure to remind Prime Minister Morrison that young people would not comply with his “rude” suggestion that students ought to be in class to learn so they are prepared for future jobs in coal and oil drilling.
Students responded in full force the following Friday, when an estimated 15,000 thousand Australian students hit the streets armed with scathing messages like “Say NoMo to ScoMo,” “I’ve seen smarter cabinets at Ikea,” and “We’ll be less activist if you’ll be less shit.”
Lilly’s got the wisdom of an octogenarian packed into her ten years of life experience. As the strike gathers force, Lilly is often the first to reach out to fellow climate demonstrators facing moments of distress or frustration, with messages of solidarity, reminding them that the #FridaysForFuture strikers stand virtually together, even if the fight may feel lonely. In spite of discouraging moments, as Lilly sees it, the strike must go on. “No matter what, we still have to keep going because this is for the planet and for the next generation’s future. We can’t give them this planet with melted ice caps, no animal species because of greed and poaching, an ocean with plastic pollution and air filled with CO2,” she says. “We can’t live in a world where people are destroying their own habitat.” It just doesn’t make any sense.