Adults join about 100 Steamboat students in global climate strike
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A line of about 100 students from Steamboat Springs High School, many of them holding signs with environmental slogans, paraded across the Historic Routt County Courthouse on Friday morning, all of them temporarily skipping classes to support a global climate strike.
A crowd of adults, ranging from local government officials to scientists to a Native American climate advocate, gathered on the courthouse lawn to greet the students, led by high school junior Emi Cooper.
Cooper organized the strike with some of her peers as a way to pressure politicians and policymakers to take action on climate change ahead of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit on Monday, Sept. 23.
Millions of people across the world, particularly youth, planned to participate in what was expected to be the biggest climate demonstration in the planet’s history, ditching class and work to show solidarity.
Young people have formed the frontlines of this most recent charge for stricter and more serious environmental protections, led by 16-year-old Greta Thunberg from Sweden. Many of them see older generations as lagging behind in the effort to keep Earth from warming 2.7 degrees over the next 11 years, a change that the world’s leading climate scientists have warned would cause irreversible damage to the planet.
One student’s sign, held over Lincoln Avenue to the supportive honks of passing cars, read “I’ve seen better cabinets at Ikea,” referring to criticisms that politicians have fallen short on environmental legislation or outright rejected climate change.
“If they won’t be adults, then we will,” said Sarah Wittemyer, a Steamboat high school student who saw Friday’s strike as a way to show the world how serious the need for climate action has become.
But the students in Steamboat were not alone in their demands for action.
Sam Rush, a retired teacher, held a sign warning about the rising amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which has reached unprecedented levels in recent years and is seen as the major cause of climate change.
She was one of about 50 adults who attended the strike.
As a graduate student at the University of Washington in 2014, Rush saw the effects of sea-level rise firsthand while researching atmospheric carbon on a small island in Micronesia in the Pacific Ocean. According to Rush, the rising water as a result of a warming planet has decimated much of the island’s food supply.
“They now have to rely on stuff getting shipped in, like cans of Spam,” she said.
It was reassuring to Rush to see some of her peers on the courthouse lawn.
“I want to know that not all adults are sticking their heads in the sand,” she said.
While demonstrators held out signs and chanted, “Do not let our planet die — climate change is not a lie” at passing cars, a pickup truck spewed a dark cloud of exhaust smoke as it drove by the courthouse.
A Steamboat Springs Police Department patrol car quickly flashed its lights and pulled over the truck, garnering ecstatic applause from the crowd. The driver received a citation for careless driving, according to officers.
Younger students also participated in Friday’s strike. Gavin Wittlinger, a fifth-grader at Soda Creek Elementary, said he has been active in environmental protests in the past and spoken twice in front of the Steamboat Springs City Council.
A Steamboat native, Gavin has fallen in love with the powder-heavy winters and wants to protect them from a warming planet.
“My generation is going to be affected by all of this,” he said. “I would love to have a clean Earth and ski with my own kids one day.”
Ensuring that future generations can lead healthy lives is a major reason why Carolina Manriquez, a forester with the Colorado State Forest Service, attended Friday’s strike with her son Atticus.
“Our kids are the future, so we need to be here,” she said. “It’s happening everywhere. Everyone is mobilizing in different ways. I’m hoping we’re not too late.”
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