Oct 11, 2019
by Tish Levee
On Friday, Sept. 27th, thirteen months to the day after she began sitting outside the Swedish Parliament protesting the lack of adult action on the climate crisis, sixteen year-old Greta Thunberg was joined by over four million people worldwide. A large majority were students, joined by allies of all ages. While several environmental organizations, such as Greenpeace, 350.org, and the Sierra Club collaborated with youth leadership, especially by reaching out to their membership via the web, the strikes were led by young people. The youth coalition included many groups, including Fridays for the Future, Student Strike for Climate, the Sunrise Movement, Extinction Rebellion, and Youth vs. Apocalypse.
Events took place in over 6,100 locations in 185 countries, and a group of scientist in Antarctica joining in the strike made it happen on all seven continents. This far exceeded the one million people who took part in 2200 events on March 15th, including the one I attended here in Santa Rosa.
Locally, strikes in Sebastopol, Sonoma, Petaluma, and Napa joined one with several thousand people in Santa Rosa. Additional organizational help locally included that from Sustainable SRJC, the SRJC Bio Club, ECO2School, in addition to groups mentioned previously. While I was in Chico instead of Santa Rosa, I was able to get transcripts of some of the youth leaders’ speeches at a rally in Courthouse Square, which followed a march from Santa Rosa Junior College.
One of the M.C.’s for the rally was Natasha Miranda-Isakova, a senior at Analy High School, who recently returned from Switzerland after a year studying and learning about climate change, sustainable living, and giving back to nature. The other was Annabelle Lampson, a senior at Orchard View High School, who’s been an activist with Youth Vs. Apocalypse and is a member of the ECO2School Youth Board. I wrote about her in a June Gazette article, “The New Green Deal Comes to Town.” Joining them were ten other youth speakers, the youngest one being Noa Polston Schwartz, the 13-year old study body president at Hillcrest Middle School.
A central goal of the event was to encourage people to take action. One suggested action was signing a petition asking that Sonoma County and all the cities in the county pass a Climate Emergency Resolution or greatly strengthen those they had passed. To make this easier, the organizers embedded a QR code in flyers and postcards that were passed out at the rally.
In her opening, Annabelle said that youth are rising up and demanding system change because “We know the devastation that climate change is causing, and will cause, if humanity continues business as usual…We have a clear vision of social and ecological justice that has been a long time in coming.” She also noted that “youth are becoming of age to vote in the coming elections!”
An adult ally, Ann Hancock, the Founder and Chief Strategist of the Climate Center, formerly the Center for Climate Protection, told me it was a “day that made everything possible.”
Other events throughout the week saw many more people take to the streets, as well as Thunberg and other youth activists speaking at the UN. On Friday the 27th, as many as 3.6 million more people went out on Climate Strike. In New Zealand 170,000 people or 3.5% of the population joined the strike—social scientists have concluded that 3.5% of a committed population is the critical number to make change, so New Zealand is right on target! For wonderful pictures of these events—and much more—check out Greta Thunberg’s Facebook page. Really incredible posts!
Because I was on the Trinity River the weekend of September 20th, I attended the Climate Strike in Chico. When I first arrived, early, I was disappointed to see only a few people at various booths—most of them people aged 50 or older. Then suddenly, about 10 minutes before the start of the event, the downtown plaza was full—nearly 500 people—as students from Chico State College, Butte College, and local high schools poured in. Waving signs, most of them homemade on recycled cardboard or poster board, they cheered the speakers, many of whom were Indigenous, Latinx, and LGBT students. Very few speakers were not members of a minority, primarily the Mayor, Randall Stone, a City Councilwoman, and a six-year, first grader, Ruby Rohrbacker, who took the stage saying, “My name is Ruby, and I love the Earth. If you love the Earth, please hold up your hand.” As hands rose all over the plaza, she ran off the stage in tears, moved by the response. Later I spoke with her and her mother, who told me that coming there and speaking was Ruby’s own idea.
I was surprised to hear the Mayor list all the things that Chico is doing to deal with the climate crisis. I didn’t realize how progressive Chico is. They have a Climate Change Commission; a Climate Emergency Resolution was passed in March; the city’s working on a CCA (Community Choice Energy like Sonoma Clean Power), which will bring them to their climate goals five years sooner; and new Development Standards will mean less commuting and thus less emissions. Having stated that “You can’t forget kids who are pushing for climate change…when you go to sleep at night,” Mayor Stone told the assembled youth to “give us hell.” http://350buttecounty.350bayarea.org/about
Demands of the youth coalition include transforming the US economy to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030, restoring 50 percent of the world’s lands and oceans; stopping all deforestation by 2030; and ending subsidies for industrial agriculture while investing in regenerative agriculture. But the process of reaching those goals is just as important. Climate strikers are calling for respecting Indigenous lands and sovereignty and welcoming people “displaced by the cumulative effects of the climate crisis, economic inequality, violence, and lack of opportunity.”
The climate strikes will continue, every Friday, in a movement that appears to be unstoppable. Led mostly by teenagers, the majority of them young women, these students striking for the climate are finally being heard in the halls of government. Whether they can make a difference remains to be seen.
On the 27th, Greta Thunberg led 500,000 other young people at the Climate Strike in Montreal, Canada. Earlier she met privately with Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, who joined the march with his family. Asked afterwards what her message was to him, she said told him he is “not doing enough” on climate, but added that she says the same thing to every political leader she meets. "My message to all the politicians around the world is the same: just listen and act on the current, best available united science," she added.
Previously she’d called Trudeau’s government’s doublespeak on climate policy “shameful.” In June Canada declared a Climate Emergency; the next day it approved the Trans Mountain pipeline. According to a poll taken after her meeting with Trudeau, his support among voters, aged 18 to 29, dropped 11% to nearly 24%, in what is being called the “Greta effect.”
It’s just possible that leaders who will not hear these young people and who persist in following policies which threaten the survival of future generations may find themselves no longer in office. According to the Pew Research Center, the youngest voting demographic—Gen Z, along with millennials—will make up 37 percent of the vote by the 2020 presidential election. Governmental leaders could find themselves out of office, if they don’t realize how serious young people are about their future and the future of the planet.
For more on the Climate Strike, see Elaine Holtz’s column, “Santa Rosa Snippets,” in the October Gazette, p. 33.
© Tish Levee 2017
Tish Levee writes the column, “For the Planet,” in the Gazette monthly.
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