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 join a worldwide movement of young activists who are fighting for a future on a habitable Earth.
The catalyst for 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.
Tomorrow we school strike for the climate in 1769 places in 112 countries around the world. And counting.
Everyone is welcome. Everyone is needed. Let’s change history. And let’s never stop for as long as it takes. #fridaysforfuture #schoolstrike4climate #climatestrike pic.twitter.com/xpCLQN8icv
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 with 13-year-old Alexandria Villaseñor and 16-year-old Isra Hirsi. They orchestrated the network of strikes that took place across the country today, and The Verge followed along in New York City and San Francisco.
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 more than 0.5 degrees Celsius. (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 to cut carbon emissions, 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.
Coleman calls 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 says. 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 says. “I’m going to try to get every voice and every person to act.”
In New York City, events are planned throughout the day. Students at the Bronx High School of Science walk out of school at 9:31 AM, holding brightly colored handmade signs and megaphones. At noon, students from schools across the city converge on City Hall chanting “Hey hey, ho ho, climate change has got to go.”
“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 says, outside of City Hall.
Strikers like Gomez are pushing for tangible action, like the adoption of the Green New Deal. It’s a roadmap to legislation aimed at completely cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the US by 2030 while also creating jobs. The protesters want a national emergency declared over climate change, for 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 adults’ attention, this the only thing to get people to start acting,” Coleman said on the phone on Thursday. “This is my future.”
Later Friday afternoon, students march north from Columbus Circle, eventually staging a die-in on the steps of the American Museum of Natural History.
The young people who took to the streets today 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 says near NYC’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.”
Across the country in California, Austin Michael, a 19-year-old political science major at Sacramento State University, helped organize California’s strikes. He tells The Verge that this movement is happening now because of the Green New Deal, and because there’s hope that there are politicians who are ready to 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.
In San Francisco, the protest starts on Friday with a mass of people gathering around the offices of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). By 10:20AM, they’re on the move. Police officers stand watch as hundreds — maybe more than a thousand — students and adults carrying signs start marching towards the offices of Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).
One of those students is Isa Hoffman, an 18-year-old senior from Berkeley High School in gigantic green dinosaur earrings who carries a sign that says “Stand up for what you stand on.” She and fellow Berkeley High senior Robert West feel that time is running out to start fighting climate change. She has a message for the politicians making decisions about whether, and how, to fight against climate change: “We will be voting in the next election. And if people aren’t acting with our interests in mind, we’re not going to reelect them.”
The looming deadline is a common refrain among the marchers in San Francisco. Protester Alma Nabatian, a 10-year-old in fifth grade, says it’s time for action on climate change now. “It’s bad for the sea, it’s bad for animals, it’s bad for the forest. It’s bad for basically everything,” she said. She says politicians keep talking about fighting climate change “in a couple of years.” That’s too late, she says. “No, you can’t wait any longer, you’ve got to actually do it.”
The crowd turns towards Union Square, where the mass of protesters climbs on planters, sits on steps, and gathers around the vendors selling art.
One of the protesters, 18-year-old Audrey Lai, is a senior at Immaculate Conception Academy. She says she’s here to let her representatives know what she wants — and what she wants is to have kids one day who don’t have to wear breathing masks when they go outside. Today, the air in San Francisco is clear. But Lai remembers the smoke when fires burned through California last year. “It’s going to keep happening. It’s going to become fire season instead of fall,” she says. “Isn’t there something we should be doing?”
She answers her own question. “We should be working on the Earth, and not fighting each other.”
Amelia Krales and Shannon Liao contributed reporting.
Updated March 15th, 2019 8:45PM ET: Updated to included reporting from the San Francisco protest.