Week For Future: The largest climate protest in history.
Last week an estimated 7.6 million people across the globe joined in striking to demand federal action against climate change. They hailed from New York, Istanbul, Rome, Mumbai, London, Boston, and countless places in between, and many of them happen to be your neighbors, family, friends, and peers.
I spoke with three of the participants in United States Climate Change rallies to hear their take on what these historic protests were like and what their goals were in participating. They are all students, all 18 or younger, and all hopeful to create change in their community and country. Their outlooks are critical, but they hope by criticizing the current order, they can make positive improvements to the state of the planet.
Can you describe what your rally was like?
Evans Schultes- The strike I attended was located in the Boston City Hall Plaza on September 20th, with estimates of around 7,000 people in attendance. The organizers and speakers were located on a stage facing City Hall across the open courtyard overflowing with protesters. A large portion of the attendees came with clever signs expressing a range of emotions, from urgency in the matter at hand to frustration in the lack of action being taken by our public servants. The orators recounted stories, urged advocacy, and shared facts which all feed into the energy of the event, an almost electric need to take action.
Caden Kozub- The rally we went to was in the Boston City Hall Plaza. There was a main stage in the front, with 7,000-10,000 protestors. The group was made up of largely students, as they were encouraged to walk out of their classes to attend the climate strike to protest. Some people made paper signs, however, a few of them made their signs out of things such as recycled cardboard, which I found to be especially interesting and fitting for the event.
Elle Petra- The rally I attended was in Hartford, Connecticut outside the capitol building. The stage was the front steps of the building and there were multiple speakers, mostly youth, and a band performing an opening and closing number. It started out slow with probably 150-200 people and then we were joined by a few school walkouts from the Hartford high schools to bring the number to around 400-500. The speakers spoke with anger and facts. The very last thing we did was a die-in where the 450ish attendees all pretended to be dead and were utterly silent. It was in memoriam of everything we have lost so far due to climate change.
Why do you think it's important to rally and advocate for environmental activism?
Evans- This is a quite loaded question. I strongly believe that if you want to see something improve in this world, you need to be its mechanism of change. Greta Thunberg is a great example of someone who is drawing attention to this problem in hopes of enacting positive change. Furthermore, she shows us why it is important to take action and rally and advocate through her story. Just thirteen months ago, she started a movement by going on a school strike for the climate. She was the only one. This past Friday, seven million people are estimated to have joined her. That is the power of taking a stand and paving the pathway for others to follow you. Personally, I have always loved being surrounded by nature, and hate to see it so drastically damaged for the short term gain of only a few. However, for me it essentially comes down to the fact that nature can continue without us, but we cannot continue without nature. The way we are currently using our resources is not sustainable and regardless of whether you unite behind the science on the front of humanity's impact on the climate, it is beyond ignorant to deny that change is occurring to our planet. Action must be taken to mitigate the effects at the very least, and hopefully prevent the worst yet to come through changing our behaviors or approach to sustainability.
Caden- Whether or not you choose to believe in climate change, it's a very real threat facing literally everyone. It would be easiest to enact change in our environmental policies through the government, which is what many countries such as Germany and Ireland are doing. In the US, while some states on their own are instituting regulations to mitigate climate change, we lack any substantial action on the part of the federal government. This is why we need to rally and advocate if we want to create any real change. It puts pressure on government officials to take this issue seriously. Especially with the upcoming elections, candidates are forced to take a stronger stance on environmental action in order to meet the demands of the public. In the past, they were able to get away with it because we didn't have the mass rallies like we're seeing now.
Elle- I don't believe it is just important, I believe it is vital to the continuance of life on earth as we know it. I find it privileged and ignorant if people do not advocate for environmental change. Everything protesters do is not selfish, it is self preservation and done to preserve the world. When people do not advocate for or enact change they are harming the world. Without change and activism the world will die. We will all die. It is selfish and a threat to everyone's safety to not act. I advocate because I simply don't want to die. I also don't want my silence to be a contributor to the death of our planet. I don't want to give up a future for myself or my kids simply because it's difficult and I certainly don't want to die at age 50 due to climate change. I believe it is important and necessary for humanity to make a change in order to protect society and the earth for many years to come. We are not only killing ourselves but we are killing every single living thing on Earth if we are silent and do not combat climate change.
What specific changes would you like to see as a result of these protests?
Evans- It may be a little far fetched, but I would like to see the United States be the leaders of this movement to maintain a sustainable way of life. As of 2019, the USA is the second largest emitter of CO2 behind China and has one of the highest per capita rates of CO2 emissions. Specifically, I would like to see our dependency on fossil fuels to decrease, our agricultural practices to become more efficient and less damaging to the environment, our public transportation systems to grow and become more accessible, and bipartisan acknowledgement and support of this increasingly important issue.
Caden- Personally, I would like to see worldwide regulations on things such as CO2 emissions and manufacturing. And the regulations shouldn't stop there. While climate change is a major issue facing the population today, there are numerous other challenges chasing our environment, whether it be microplastics and the Pacific Garbage Patch or supporting endangered species. I think it's important that we don't stop the change once we reach a "stable" climate, but that we continue progressing forward to cleaner and more efficient energy sources, along with tackling other environmental issues.
Elle- I would like to see the president acting and not tweeting. I would like to see the U.S. become a role model once again. I would like to see society reducing their intake rate and focusing on reusable and sustainable systems. But I also believe it should not be up to teenagers and college students to decide what steps we should take to have a better future. I want to see the adults in charge becoming ashamed and embarrassed of their actions. I want to see the adults making the decisions they're supposed to. I want to see the kids being kids and adults being adults. I want to see kids in school learning not in the streets protesting. I want to see the world going green and securing a habitable future and I want to see politicians around the world acting like the adults they are supposed to.
Do you think we're progressing or regressing and why?
Evans- I am not sure. It is encouraging to see the response to and growth of the Fridays for Future movement, but it is equally concerning to see the backlash and refusal of scientific conclusions. It takes time–a commodity we do not have in excess–to change public opinion and create change. Fortunately, a majority of Americans already believe climate change is happening and that there is an element of human responsibility, but that does not necessarily indicate that there will be any progress or change enacted by the federal government (Gustafson, "A Growing Majority of Americans Think Global Warming is Happening and are Worried" (link below)).
Caden- I think as a whole, the global population is progressing towards a better future, however, in terms of the U.S., I don't think it's easy to say whether or not we're progressing until the results of the upcoming presidential elections. It's hard to tell how much progress we're actually making when our president is actively denying climate change and enacting policies that damage the environment. Regulations in states like California and New York gives me hope that the public is trying to fight climate change on their own, but without the support of the federal government, it's difficult to make any major changes. In addition, with countries in Africa just entering their industrialization periods, there's a huge area of the continent emitting CO2 into the atmosphere that was previously emitting a minimal amount.
Elle- I think it's a mixture of both. On one hand We are advancing technologies to be more green and are becoming motivated to regulate consumption however I believe that society is being turned upside down. On one hand, we have change but in the other kids are in the streets and not classrooms having to fight for a habitable future. I also see a great divide among civilizations where we have climate deniers and climate activists when really everyone should be fighting for the world's health.
How can people cultivate change on an individual level?
Evans- There are of course choices you can make to live your life in the most sustainable, environmentally-friendly way, but they can get unrealistically expensive pretty quickly. To live in a sustainable manner, large changes in how we function as a society of people will need to be enacted. Whether by local, state, or federal governments, or even by large corporations or small businesses alike putting everyone's mutual interest ahead of financial gain, systemic changes will be what drives down our greenhouse gas emissions. Individuals can help by getting involved, by being that mechanism of change. Look up information on climate change, find your local organization, call your representatives and tell them how you feel! I hate to say it, but I don't think just turning off the lights when you leave a room is going to cut it anymore, although I don't condone leaving them on either.
Caden- Unfortunately, the majority of the CO2 emissions and other greenhouse gases leading to climate change aren't being produced by everyday citizens. Large manufacturing companies and oil corporations are leading to the majority of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and they won't change their policies without any state or federal laws regulating their practices. On the individual level, I'd say it's important to be active in your community. Go to the climate change rallies, be vocal in your local government, and do whatever you can to raise awareness about the issue. Furthermore, supporting sustainable restaurants (you can usually find information online about whether or not it's sustainable) is an easy way to promote sustainable food resources and put pressure on those who aren't using sustainable practices, especially the cattle and fishing industries. The larger scale change will start to emerge if everyone contributes to the issue in their own communities, whether it be something big or small.
Elle- People can cultivate change by shopping locally, not supporting big businesses, and by reducing their use of CO2 requiring transportation and single use plastics. I also believe that raising awareness in their individual communities is another positive way to make change. Furthermore, by teaching children to be aware of the environment and of climate change allows them to grow up and make positive decisions which help the environment. Also don't freaking litter! By organizing clean ups and picking up trash on the street, animal lives are being saved. Pretty much just educating your community about climate change and by teaching how to recycle, how to compost and many other sustainable ways of living, a community can become more green.