What started as one 16-year-old Swedish girl’s decision to skip school every Friday and protest climate change outside Sweden’s parliament building has become a worldwide movement of youth determined to change the course of what is now considered an environmental crisis.
This Friday, hundreds of thousands of teens from more than 90 countries are expected to march in the inaugural Youth Climate Strike, inspired by the Swedish teen, Greta Thunberg. An estimated 500 students in Santa Fe will gather outside the Roundhouse in solidarity with young people worldwide.
“They can’t ignore climate change, and they can’t ignore us,” said 10-year-old Emily Christopher, a home-schooled student from Albuquerque who helped spearhead the local event alongside other kids from the Sierra Club’s Global Warming Express program.
“We need to do something about climate change now,” Emily said. “We can’t wait until we’re all grown up because then it will be too late.”
According to a recent report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world has less than 12 years to reduce catastrophic global warming.
In the report, leading scientists warn that after 2030, there’s a good chance temperatures will rise by more than 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit. Even half a degree higher, experts say, could kill hundreds of millions of people because of heatstroke, as well as increase natural disasters, cause economic despair and disease and amplify a refugee crisis.
Some people might think 12 years sounds like plenty of time, but Genie Stevens, the Sierra Club’s climate education director in Santa Fe, argues that time will fly by.
“Seven years ago, [politicians] didn’t even call it climate change,” she said. Since then, “things have changed rapidly — and not for the better.”
In January, tens of thousands of kids across Europe participated in what Thunberg dubbed a “Fridays for Future” strike. Since then, there have been numerous youth-organized climate rallies all over the world.
During one such event, held in various European cities last month, Thunberg posted on Twitter: “British PM says that children on school strike are ‘wasting lesson time.’ That may well be the case. But then again, political leaders have wasted 30 yrs of inaction. And that is slightly worse.”
Stevens said, adults are starting to listen to young people’s pleas — in part, she said, because as adults become “more and more disillusioned and depressed,” kids are the only people who can inspire them.
The youth “just cut right through the B.S.,” she said.
Through Global Warming Express — a student-created program that aims to educate children about science, sustainability and action — Stevens said she’s seen countless kids advocate for cutting back on the use of plastics, banning single-use plastic items and adding solar power systems to schools.
“Once kids know the facts,” she said, they want to make change, and they wonder why older generations haven’t done more already.
Leslie Lakind, a longtime Santa Fe activist and dentist, agreed, writing in an email that he’s “grateful these kids are putting in far more muscle than my generation.”
“I just don’t know what it’s going to take to move people,” Lakind later said in an interview. “We have this crisis that’s imminent. … Why aren’t we doing something?”
This is why, students say, it’s vital for youth to take the lead.
“This is a crisis we are all already living in,” said Hannah Laga Abram, a senior at Santa Fe Waldorf School and youth leader with the local nonprofit Earth Care. In an invitation to community members to participate in Friday’s march, she said, “Whether you are a student or an elder, a child or a parent, come strike with us for the sake of a livable future.”
With the final day of the legislative session Saturday, Stevens said, the timing of Friday’s Youth Climate Strike couldn’t be better. The Capitol, she said, will be packed with political leaders who have the power to help address the kids’ concerns.
Christopher, who will be passing out two-page handwritten letters to legislators, said one message she wants to communicate to local government officials is that they should “stop thinking about money and just themselves.”
“They have to think about everyone — the planet and the animals, everything,” she added.
Sierra Woosley, a 9-year-old student at New Mexico School for the Deaf agreed.
“We are nature,” she wrote in an email. “When we destroy nature—we destroy ourselves.”
When the march is over, Stevens said, the fight to protect the planet will not be over: “This is just the beginning. It’s not going to be the final strike.”
If you go
What: Students from across the state will skip school Friday and join a Santa Fe strike against climate change, joining possibly hundreds of thousands of other youth in cities across the world.
When: The local march will begin at 11 a.m. and is planned to end around 2 p.m.
Where: Participants will gather at the Plaza, where they will begin a march to the Capitol. In the Rotunda, students will share stories of climate change action and gather for a quiet sit-in before heading outside for music and a community gathering.