- Derek Carlisle
Tens of thousands of students were joined by adults in abandoning schools and workplaces for a wave of climate strikes across the country.
Climate change strikes took center stage in more than 1,000 U.S. cities on Sept. 20, with major rallies in New York, Washington D.C., Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and Miami. Globally, more than 4,500 strikes were planned in 150 countries.
- Bryan Thomas / The Guardian
Declaring a "global emergency," a handful of local protesters blocked off north State leading up to the Utah Capitol.
Some 2,000 miles away, the young strikers' totemic figure, 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, took part in the New York walkout to speak to protesters in Manhattan. Leading up to her appearance, New York authorities announced its population of 1.1 million students could skip school to attend the strikes.
In March, more than a million students took part in a global climate strike. But this iteration was swelled further by adults who walked out of their workplaces in support of the young protesters who demanded a halt to fossil fuel projects and a complete shift to renewable energy.
Dozens of companies, including Patagonia and Ben and Jerry's, announced they planned on supporting striking staff, with major unions also backing the walkouts. Thousands of websites, such as Tumblr and Kickstarter, went "dark."
"This is going to be the largest mobilization for climate action in history," Alexandria Villaseñor, a 14-year-old who has been protesting outside U.N. headquarters every Friday since December, said before the momentous occasion.
"World leaders can either listen now or listen later because our voice is only going to get louder as the climate crisis gets more urgent. Adults need to step up and support us. Civil disobedience breaks the system, and once it's broken, it's an amazing opportunity to make things better."
Dulce Belen Ceballos Arias, an 18-year-old from San Francisco, said she participated because, "I want children of my own and I want them to have a better life than me. I don't want that to be taken away by climate change."
Students in Boston were also excused from school. "We are excited to disrupt business as usual, to demand a Green New Deal," Audrey Maurine Xin Lin, an 18-year-old organizer in Boston, said in reference to the resolution endorsed by progressive Democrats to enact a World War II-style economic mobilization to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions.
The strikes were backed by officials in several cities. "When your house is on fire, somebody needs to sound the alarm," read a joint statement by the mayors of New York, Paris and Los Angeles. "Young people in our cities, displaying incredible maturity and dignity, are doing just that."
The sprawling strikes represent a remarkable escalation of Thunberg's decision last year to start skipping school on Fridays to protest against inaction by the Swedish government over the climate crisis. A global movement has since grown from her stand, with young people expressing outrage that their generation is being left a world with increasingly punishing heat waves, storms, flooding and societal unrest.
Thunberg, who abjures plane travel, arrived in New York on a solar-powered racing yacht in late August and has since become a focal point for the climate movement, appearing on talk shows and in Congress to excoriate its members, as well as meeting Barack Obama, who called her "one of our planet's greatest advocates."
Her stateside sojourn culminated with a U.N. climate summit. Addressing world leaders who assembled to help revive the flagging efforts to avoid disastrous global warming, her comments resounded on an international scale.
The U.S. and Brazil, lead by nationalist leaders disdainful of climate science, have slowed momentum, with a U.N. report released last month warning that the required ambition is lacking among most countries.
"The audacity of kids simply asking leaders to lead is extraordinary. We are indebted to them," said Rachel Kyte, special representative for the U.N. secretary general for sustainable energy. "They are rightly impatient.
"Not every country is aligned to the need for fast action. The hope is that the U.S. will join in at the point where public opinion is able to influence the national voice more than it does today."
A version of this story originally appeared in The Nation. It is republished here as part of City Weekly's partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen climate coverage.