After five weeks of planning, Grace Lambert was hoping a few dozen students would miss class Friday to attend the climate change rally she helped organize.
So when she saw several hundred King and Snohomish county students curved around the baseball diamond at Seattle’s Cal Anderson Park, she was astonished.
“I was hoping for 50,” said Lambert, a junior at Henry M. Jackson High School in Mill Creek.
The Seattle-area strike Lambert and other students organized was tied to an international, youth-led movement demanding more government action on global warming by demonstrating on Fridays. In the U.S., a student-led coalition called Youth Climate Strike — which has state and local-level organizers such as Lambert — coordinated the American school strikes.
Their demands, listed on a U.S. organizing website for the movement, include declaring a national emergency on climate change, halting fossil-fuel infrastructure projects and approval of the Green New Deal — a nonbinding U.S. House of Representatives resolution that proposes transforming the U.S. economy with the goal of reducing carbon emissions.
The coordinated “school strikes” were inspired by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who began holding solitary demonstrations outside the Swedish parliament last year.
Since then, the weekly protests have snowballed from a handful of cities to hundreds, fueled by dramatic headlines about the impact of climate change during the students’ lifetime. Unless emissions of heat-trapping gases start dropping dramatically, scientists estimate that the protesters will be in their 40s and 50s, maybe even 30s, when the world will reach dangerous levels of warming that international agreements are trying to prevent.
Well more than 150,000 students and adults who were mobilized by word of mouth and social media protested in Europe, according to police estimates. The initial turnout in the United States did not look quite as high.
In Seattle, speakers included the event’s organizers, as well as Seattle City Council candidates, a 12-year-old student and a climate scientist. Some of those who gathered at Cal Anderson Park said that even though they feel relatively shielded from the effects of global warming, they’ve taken notice of the unusual weather patterns here and abroad.
Fatema Alahmed, a student at North Seattle College, moved to the Seattle area from the Middle East two years ago. In that short time, she witnessed two very different summer times here — 2018 being one of the city’s hottest on record.
Just a few feet away from the podium, Elizabeth Quain and her 10-year-old twin daughters, Gabby and Aubrey, sat clutching signs. One read “Stop destroying my planet” and the second “Stop polluting my planet.”
Quain and her daughters just came back from traveling abroad, visiting places with intolerable air quality and coral reefs filled with garbage.
Their school in Lynnwood was closed Friday, but Quain said she would have had her daughters skip anyway.
Some signs at the rally struck a humorous note. Paola Quijada, a 17-year-old Bellevue High School student, got to her school’s art room early in the morning to make her sign, which she modeled after one she found on Google images.
“Yo momma’s so hot she’s about to experience desertification & rising sea levels,” the sign read.
Quijada says she picked that one because it was funny, and it echoed her frustration with global warming being largely a problem created by older generations.
Even so, she feels that right now, young people have the world’s ear.
“A lot goes into what we do and say,” said Quijada.
A sit-in at the state Capitol, put on by a separate organization, is scheduled for next month. But as for what’s coming next for this movement, Lambert, the rally’s lead organizer, isn’t sure quite yet. She just knows it isn’t going away.
“We have 11 years” to keep global warming from exceeding 1.5 degrees (Celsius), she said. “It’s my future on the line.”
Information from The Associated Press is included in this story.