Students across the country walked out of school and into the streets today to demand that the adults running the government start fighting back against climate change. The strikers joined a worldwide movement of young activists who are fighting for a future on a habitable Earth.
The catalyst of the strikes is 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, a student in Sweden whose climate protests in lieu of classes just earned her a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Haven Coleman, a 12 — almost 13 — year-old from Colorado brought Thunberg’s movement to the US. She co-founded the US Youth Climate Strike along with 13-year-old Alexandria Villaseñor and 16-year-old Isra Hirsi. They’ve orchestrated the network of strikes expected across the country today, and The Verge will be following along in New York City and San Francisco.
In New York City, events were planned throughout the city and throughout the day. Students at the Bronx High School of Science walked out of school at 9:30 AM, holding brightly colored handmade signs and megaphones. At noon, students from schools across the city converged on City Hall chanting “Hey hey, ho ho, climate change has got to go.” A rally is also planned at Columbus Circle at 2 PM local time.
“Climate change isn’t something you can fix from one day to another. It takes time. And we have very little time to fix everything.” 14-year-old Melanie Gomez said outside of City Hall.
Strikers like Gomez are pushing for tangible action, like the adoption of the Green New Deal’s roadmap to legislation aimed at completely cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the US by 2030 while also creating jobs. They want a national emergency declared about climate change, and construction on new oil infrastructure to cease, and better education about climate change in schools. “I’m striking because this is the only thing to grasp adult’s attention, this the only thing to get people to start acting,” Coleman said on the phone on Thursday. “This is my future.”
There’s an urgency to the movement. In October 2018, a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change gave the world only 12 years to cut carbon emissions to keep global temperatures from rising by 0.5℃. (The world has already warmed by one degree Celsius since the 1800s.) Even if that goal is met, a study published by the UN this week found that Arctic temperatures are still projected to spike, which will worsen sea level rise. But if we fail, sea levels will rise even higher and encroach further onto shore. Droughts and water shortages will be more severe, and coral reefs may disappear completely. The clock is ticking.
The young people who took to the streets today feel each tick of that clock, and are dismayed — but not surprised — by the inaction of their elders. “It really doesn’t affect a 72-year-old president who’s not going to live for the next 50 years,” 13-year-old Harper Alderson said near New York City’s City Hall. “It’s not going to affect a lot of the people who are in politics right now, who are old and own companies, and who are rich enough to support themselves. It affects us, the kids, who are in school right now, who can’t vote, who don’t have a voice, and we have the right to make change for ourselves, even if it’s not with voting.”
Austin Michael, a 19-year-old political science major at Sacramento State University, is one of the organizers of California’s strikes. He thinks this movement is happening now because of the Green New Deal, and politicians that strikers believe might actually take action. “With the last election, we do have people in office that are willing to get something done about this issue, and that are willing to fight with us,” he said on Thursday. “There is a really increased sense of urgency with the 11 years that we’ve been given to solve the climate crisis, and there are also tangible things that we can push for.”
Coleman, Michael, and the US Youth Climate Strike all mentioned the looming deadline. Coleman called out previous generations for procrastinating, and leaving the fight against climate change till the eleventh hour. “In the ‘70s we had the chance to eliminate climate change altogether,” Coleman said on Thursday. Now, Coleman’s feeling the pressure of the 11-year deadline. Miss it, she says, “and you’re pretty much screwed.” So for the next 11 years, she has a mission: “I am going to use every second,” she said. “I’m going to try to get every voice and every person to act.”
Amelia Krales and Shannon Liao contributed reporting.