SAN FRANCISCO – Tens of thousands of high school students in cities nationwide plan to skip classes Friday to attend Global Climate Strike marches calling for immediate action to end climate change. They will be part of a global joint protest aimed directly at the adults who they say are ignoring the destruction of the planet.
“We have to treat climate change as what it is – an emergency,” said Audrey Maurine Xin Lin, an 18-year-old who’s been one of the coordinators of the Boston school strike and march.
The events come out of a groundswell of worry on the part of young people about the future of the planet. Students in more than 800 locations around the United States plan to go on strike from school for the day to attend protests.
“It’s going to be a really, really powerful day, the launch of a new era of climate movement. This is just the beginning for us,” said Katie Eder, 19, who is the executive director of the Future Coalition, a youth-led nonprofit helping the groups coordinate.
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The protests are timed to begin a week of activism at the United Nations, including a Youth Climate Summit on Saturday and a U.N. Climate Action Summit on Monday. A second strike is planned for Friday, Sept. 27.
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, 16, put a face on the global movement beginning in August 2018 when she began skipping school on Fridays to stand outside the Swedish parliament holding a sign protesting inaction on climate change. She came to New York on a solar-powered sailboat to attend the strike in New York City and then the summit.
The movement is not led by her, but a broad group of young people who say they are frightened for their futures and angry that adults have done so little. Unlike the Vietnam War protests, which were mostly college students, the organizers of these events are mostly high school and even some middle school students.
“I want to emphasize that our entire organizing team is under 20. Young people and students have really been leading this,” Lin said. She and four other teens were on a press call Wednesday describing the work they’re doing and why it’s important.
The young people said they want politicians to act as if the world’s on fire and begin curbing carbon emissions and taking the fight against global warming seriously.
“We won’t have the chance to make the changes we need to if we don’t have the courage to fight,” said Dulce Belen Ceballos Arias, 18, from Redwood City, California. She is helping plan the San Francisco march.
“I want to have children of my own and I want them to have a life better than me and I don’t want that chance to be taken away from them,” she said.
Young people aren’t the only ones getting involved. Multiple companies, mostly on the smaller side, are shutting down for the day so employees can attend local marches. They include Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia, Burton and SodaStream.
But while the students say they’re happy to have adults march and get involved, for them this is personal.
“It’s our future that’s at stake,” said Gabriella Marchesani, 17, a Miami Strike youth leader.
While some school districts are giving students who attend the marches an excused absence, others aren’t. In Florida, Miami-Dade County Public Schools is not, a district spokeswoman said.
Marchesani sees that as misguided in a city that is expected to be hit hard by rising sea levels in the coming years and where “our houses might be underwater soon.”
For her, Friday’s action isn’t just some small march to give kids a chance to cut class.
“This is a historic commitment that we’re going to look back on and say, ‘That’s the day that youth made a statement that we’re not going to give up,’” she said.