What to Expect from the Youth-Led Global Climate Strikes

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On September 20, young people are organizing around the world to demand climate action from leaders leading up to the U.N. Climate Action Summit in New York on September 23. The Global Climate Strike is a youth-led demonstration to demand environmentally conscious decision-making and a transition away from fossil fuels. Young people will be advocating for things like implementing the Green New Deal, restoring biodiversity and respecting Indigenous land. Following events on September 20, organizers are planning a second strike for Friday, September 27.

The global strike is expected to be one of the largest student-led movements in history, with a projected 3 million demonstrators in 150 countries, said Monica Mohapatra, spokesperson for 350.org, one of the groups organizing the strike.

Live Updates from the Global Climate Strike

This youth climate movement has largely been inspired by Swedish student Greta Thunberg, who last year began protesting climate inaction outside her country’s parliament. The 16-year-old eventually began skipping school every Friday to protest. Soon, others followed her lead, and the weekly demonstrations became known as “Fridays for Future,” inspiring youth around the world to take climate action. One of the largest youth climate strikes happened in March. The global strike garnered participation from 1.6 million people worldwide, according to a 350.org press release.

At least 900 strikes are happening Friday in the U.S., Mohapatra said, including in Boston, Washington, D.C., Seattle, and Anchorage, Alaska.

Here’s a preview of what you can expect from these four cities.

Boston

In Boston, youth organizers will lead a strike beginning at 10am local time with a rally at City Hall. Following a march to the Massachusetts State House, demonstrators will stage a one-hour protest at 1pm. Event organizers project a turnout of about 10,000, with youth activists leading the call to action around a number of targeted climate issues.

Taking their cue from Thunberg, young people in Boston are expected to ask Gov. Charlie Baker (R-MA) to declare a climate emergency and enact legislation to advance environmental justice and promote the adoption of renewable energy, while cutting down on carbon emissions. They’ll also advocate for national legislation, including the Green New Deal, as well as respect for Indigenous land and sovereignty for Native people.

Organized by the Massachusetts Climate Strike coalition, the strike has the support of 25 other organizations, including Mass Audubon, the Elders Climate Action and the Massachusetts Teachers Association, among others. Planned speakers in Boston include City Councilor Michelle Wu, former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Community Organizer Rev. Mariama White-Hammond.

Washington, D.C. 

Thousands of youth are expected to skip school and march to Capitol Hill Friday. More than a dozen organizations, both local and national, have joined forces to demand action on climate change. While student-led, the strike leaders expect strong adult turnout as well.

Isabella Fallahi, 16, of Indianapolis, is director of communications for This is Zero Hour, which organized the youth climate march in D.C. in July 2018 and will be participating again September 20. Having grown up in a state dominated by fossil fuels and poor air quality, she got involved last year. “My generation wants a future,” she said. “In the current state, that’s not going to happen.”

Congresswoman and sponsor of the Green New Deal Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) is expected to be among the speakers at the D.C. event.

The event begins at John Marshall Park at 11am local time and participants will march to the Capitol by 2pm.

Seattle

Olivia Schroeder, 17, grew up camping at the Kalaloch Campground in Washington’s Olympic National Park. There, she has memories of sand-castle competitions, walks among driftwood piles and the occasional chilly ocean dip.

Her love of the ocean runs deeper than regular camping trips, though. It’s inspired her to protect the wild places she loves.

“All of my favorite childhood memories are traveling and being near the water,” said Schroeder, a senior at Seattle’s Lakeside High School. “I know there are a lot of people who are incredibly connected to nature, and that’s something we can protect and should protect.”

Schroeder is among the young people striking at 12pm local time in Seattle, joining the millions of students worldwide who are protesting inaction toward climate change. The Seattle strike begins at Cal Anderson Park. A pre-strike event that includes youth speeches begins at 9am.

“The youth have been forced to stand up and take the role in this [climate] movement,” she said. “We are inheriting a planet that is at this point dying at a rapid rate.”

Phil Levin, lead scientist for The Nature Conservancy in Washington and professor at the University of Washington, said older generations have set a bad stage for Olivia’s generation. However, he’s optimistic that improvements can be made.

“We set the table up pretty poorly, but it’s not too late to change what’s on the table,” he said. “I think we know what the solutions are. People are acting.”

Levin said the scientific community has long understood the need to take urgent climate action. He said he first felt the urgency that many are feeling today back in the '80s.

“There’s no mystery to it. It was in the late '80s when the first scientific alarms were sounded,” he said. “You think, ‘Surely, we will fix this problem.’ And we didn’t.”

His biggest worry is for the ocean, which is becoming consistently warmer and more acidic, due to carbon dioxide being absorbed from the atmosphere into the water.

Levin said humans have about 10 years to act to prevent some of the worst outcomes.

“We’ve waited too long, but it’s not too late.”

Anchorage 

As the nation’s only arctic state, Alaska is all too familiar with the effects of climate change. Rising sea levels and ice melt have put coastal villages at risk of destruction. This year, the state has experienced a significant wildfire season—more than 2.5 million acres have burned since April 30—and record-setting temperatures. Like many Alaskans, Cassidy Austin, 17, began noticing these effects in her hometown of McCarthy, Alaska.

“In McCarthy, we have two big glaciers—the Root Glacier and the Kennicott Glacier—and I began noticing that the glacial lakes were getting bigger and bigger,” Austin said.

Located at the end of a 60-mile gravel road that borders Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, McCarthy was once a booming mining town, but today is known for its stunning landscapes and rugged Alaska adventure. Austin, a senior, lives in Anchorage during the school year, but makes the more than six-hour drive back to McCarthy with her family for the summer.

“I feel such a connection to this place,” Austin said. “It’s home to me.”

McCarthy’s ties to mining piqued Austin’s interest in environmental causes. As she began to research the long-term effects of the mining industry had in McCarthy, she felt compelled to speak up. First, she voiced concerns about future mining operations in Alaska and then about climate.

“I see value in protecting this land,” Austin said. “And a good way to bring about change is to get your voice out.”

On Friday, Austin is one of hundreds of youth leaders across the globe organizing climate strikes in their communities. In Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, Austin expects up to 100 of her peers to strike with her at Cuddy Family Midtown Park. The event kicks off at 1:30pm local time with music and stationed activities.

Austin and her fellow activists will take the stage at 2:30pm and deliver their keynote addresses. In between planned speeches, they will open the mic so their peers can be heard.

“We didn’t want it to just be us talking about why this is important,” Austin said. “We organized it so that everyone has a chance to speak.”

In addition, Austin and her team have organized a letter writing station, where people can send their concerns to Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R-AK).

“I hope our representatives will support our voices as Alaskans,” Austin said. “This is an issue we can’t afford to keep waiting on.”

Dana Hatic, Amanda Loudin, Sarah Grothjan and Caitlin Goettler contributed to this report.

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