A Rising Generation Asserts Itself On Climate Change

Sep 20, 2019
Originally published on September 20, 2019 5:40 am

Spurred by what they see as a sluggish, ineffectual response to the existential threat of global warming, student activists from around the world are skipping school Friday, for what organizers call a Global Climate Strike.

The young activists are protesting as the U.N. prepares to hold its Climate Action Summit on Monday in New York City.

The strike's figurehead is 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who traveled from Sweden to New York on an emissions-free sailboat. A little over a year ago, Thunberg began her school strike for the climate by herself, outside the Swedish Parliament.

Support for a school climate strike has since spread across the globe. In the past year, Thunberg has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Norwegian lawmakers. She's also met with Pope Francis and lawmakers in several countries.

"We are currently on track for a world that could displace billions of people from their homes," Thunberg warned this week as she accepted Amnesty International's Ambassador of Conscience Award. She ended her acceptance speech with a call to action: "See you on the streets!"

In New York City, thousands of students are expected to fill the streets alongside Thunberg because, as the city's school district announced on Twitter, it is giving strikers excused absences. In Oregon, Portland Public Schools is doing the same.

Strikes also are planned in rural areas where just a few dozen protesters are expected. Nicholas DuVernay, 17, organized a protest in his politically conservative small town of La Grande, Ore.

"Since, probably, the beginning of my junior year in high school I've been interested in climate science and pretty passionate about environmental topics," says DuVernay, who plans to study climate science when he attends college next year.

A Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll this week shows a majority of teenagers believe human-caused climate change will cause harm to them. And a quarter of the poll respondents said they have participated in a school walk-out, a rally or contacted a government official on the issue.

There have been similar student events in the past year. But this time, students are asking adults to join them.

At the University of Nevada, Reno, Stallar Lufrano-Jardine, 36, is setting up an event on the campus where she's an employee and student.

"I'm bothered by the lack of movement to make meaningful advances to solve the climate crisis," says Lufrano-Jardine.

But it's clear younger people are leading this movement. And they say most adults — especially policy-makers — are moving far too slowly.

Strike organizers have a list of demands that includes "respect of indigenous land, sustainable agriculture, protecting biodiversity, environmental justice and a just transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy," said 17-year-old Baltimore resident and organizer Nadia Nazar.

Many of those demands are part of the Green New Deal, which was crafted by progressive Democratic lawmakers but so far hasn't gone anywhere in Congress.

At a Capitol Hill press event this week, Nazar said she hopes the proposal defines her generation. "I am not a part of Generation Z. I am a part of Gen GND — the generation of the Green New Deal," she said as supporters cheered.

Also on Capitol Hill this week, Thunberg and other activists testified before lawmakers. Louisiana Republican Rep. Garret Graves told them that climate change has exacerbated the loss of his state's coastline.

"I agree that we need to take aggressive action. I agree that we need to ensure that we move forward in a sustainable, rational manner," Graves said.

But his idea of what that means is very different than the activists' vision.

For instance, Graves agrees with President Trump on the need to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement. Graves told the student organizers the pact allows China to continue emitting more carbon dioxide while the U.S. cuts emissions. "Paris and its related pledges would undermine U.S. competitiveness," his spokesman said.

Graves got immediate pushback from the young activists, including 17-year-old Jamie Margolin from Seattle, who asked how Graves will respond to questions from his children and grandchildren about whether he did enough to address climate change.

"Can you really look them in the eye and say, 'No, sorry, I couldn't do anything because that country over there didn't do anything, so if they're not going to do it then I'm not.' That is shameful and that is cowardly," Margolin said.

Organizers are saying this climate strike will be the largest yet. More than 2,000 scientists around the world have pledged to join. Some companies also have signed on, including Patagonia and Seventh Generation.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NOEL KING, HOST:

Students from around the world are ditching school today for a cause. They're worried about their future in a world that's getting hotter. The strikes are being led by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who's 16 years old. And the strike is timed ahead of a U.N. climate action summit in New York next week. NPR's Jeff Brady is in New York. He has the story.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: A little over a year ago, Greta Thunberg launched her school strike for the climate by herself outside the Swedish Parliament. It has spread across the globe. She traveled from her native Sweden to New York on an emission-free sailboat.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GRETA THUNBERG: We are currently on track for a world that could displace billions of people from their homes, taking away...

BRADY: In the past year, Thunberg has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Norwegian lawmakers. She met Pope Francis. And this week, Amnesty International gave her its top award. Thunberg ended her acceptance speech with a call to action.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GRETA: And just one last thing - see you on the streets.

(APPLAUSE)

BRADY: In New York, thousands of students may fill the streets because the school district is giving strikers excused absences - same in Portland, Ore. Strikes also are planned in rural places, where just a few dozen protesters are expected. Seventeen-year-old Nicholas DuVernay organized a protest in his politically conservative small town of La Grande, Ore.

NICHOLAS DUVERNAY: Since probably the beginning of my junior year in high school, I've been interested in climate science and pretty passion about environmental topics.

BRADY: These youthful climate strikers all say adults are moving too slowly. They have a list of demands that were summed up at a Capitol Hill press conference this week by 17-year-old Baltimore resident Nadia Nazar.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

NADIA NAZAR: Respect of indigenous land, sustainable agriculture, protecting biodiversity, environmental justice and a just transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy.

BRADY: Those demands often get wrapped into one proposal, the Green New Deal, which was crafted by progressive Democratic lawmakers and so far hasn't gone anywhere in Congress. Still, Nazar hopes it will define her generation.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

NADIA: I am not a part of Generation Z. I am a part of Gen GND, the generation of the Green New Deal.

(APPLAUSE)

BRADY: Also on Capitol Hill this week, Thunberg and other activists testified before lawmakers. Louisiana Republican Congressman Garret Graves told them climate change has exacerbated the loss of his state's coastline.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GARRET GRAVES: I agree that we need to take aggressive action. I agree that we need to ensure that we move forward in a sustainable, rational manner.

BRADY: But Graves' idea of that is very different from the activists. He has problems with the Paris Climate Agreement, which President Trump plans to withdraw from. Graves says the accord allows China to continue emitting more carbon dioxide while the U.S. cuts emissions.

Seventeen-year-old Seattle activist Jamie Margolin asked how Graves will respond to questions from his children about whether he did enough to address climate change.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAMIE MARGOLIN: Can you really look them in the eye and say, no, sorry, I couldn't do anything because that country over there didn't do anything, so if they're not going to do it, then I'm not? That is shameful. And that is cowardly.

BRADY: At the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Sarah Ladislaw has studied energy policy and climate change for 15 years. She worries the debate over what to do about a warming climate is dominated by people at either extreme.

SARAH LADISLAW: I'm more of an incrementalist myself - that's just what I've observed that is consistently been making progress over time. But I am really sympathetic to the idea that, you know, we're not moving anywhere near fast enough. And so I give these young people, in particular, a lot of credit.

BRADY: Credit for raising the profile of climate change and pressing leaders to act more quickly. Jeff Brady, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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