Students and activists explain why they’re taking to the streets today Around the world, millions of people are walking out of work and school as part of the Global Climate Strike. The demonstrations in the streets taking place to demand that global leaders take action to combat the climate crisis and its catastrophic effects. These mass protests are timed to show support for drastic steps ahead of a climate summit at the United Nations on Monday, September 23rd.
The Verge spoke with several students and activists from across the United States about why they’re walking out today and how they’re already experiencing climate change in their own lives.
These interviews have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
“Climate change is actually the very reason I live here in the US.”
Felíquan Charlemagne, 17
West Port High School — Ocala, Florida
How is climate change affecting your home and daily life? Climate change is actually the very reason I live here in the US. I was born on a small island in the Caribbean called St. Thomas. Throughout my entire life, my island and its economy have been further destabilized by climate change and disasters caused by it. This is what we mean when we say climate change isn’t just a singular issue but an existential threat that is at the intersection of nearly every issue.
Why are you joining in the climate strike? I’m joining in the climate strike because every big structural change in history has come [because] of a grassroots insurgence. The climate strike movement, a grassroots, decentralized movement, has the power to change conversations and force leadership to deliver the bold climate solutions we need to not only stop climate change, but build a better world and economy for us all.
What solutions do you want to see come out of the strike and UN climate events this month? Whatever policies come out of the strike and the UN climate events, these solutions need to be based off of the actual science, having a target of net zero emissions by 2030, and need to be bold and as big as the crisis we’re fighting. These policies need to recognize the importance of reinvesting in front-line communities that have been disproportionately affected by the climate crisis. These solutions need to hold those at the top responsible for what they have caused, and invest in the working classes of the world.
“Right now, we’re all playing into a system that doesn’t do any good for any of us.”
Tokata Iron Eyes, 16
Red Cloud Indian School — Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota
Originally from Standing Rock Reservation, North Dakota
How is climate change affecting your home and daily life? In a very real way, climate change is a huge threat to my livelihood and the way that I live my life as an indigenous person. Every aspect of who I am is tied in with nature. It’s my entire way of life. It’s my entire culture. Climate change and indigenous issues are so intertwined because a lot of [these issues] stem from the same extractive industries. We often see that when indigenous communities are attacked, the environment is attacked, and vice versa. There cannot be a solution to the climate crisis that doesn’t even include indigenous people.
Why are you joining in the climate strike? I’m going to the climate strike to represent the indigenous women and girls all across the globe whose voices are not heard. There are indigenous people all over the globe who have been saying these things for millennia. It’s just that, for them, it’s much more dangerous because they may come from places where [speaking out] might be illegal or taboo. It creates a lot of violence for them. And so, for me, it’s an obligation and an opportunity to be that voice for those who need it the most. And also because, as a 16-year-old, I want a childhood again. Why should I have to worry about building another future when I should have so much of my own to still look forward to?
“Why should I have to worry about building another future when I should have so much of my own to still look forward to?”
What solutions do you want to see come out of the strike and UN climate events this month? Right now, we’re all playing into a system that doesn’t do any good for any of us. Every day, we’re making a choice whether or not to participate in the things that are actively hurting us. And striking is a way to show that we no longer want to do that to ourselves. And in fact, we won’t let others do it to us.
With any UN summit, you know, a lot of times, it’s just talk. It’s always been just talk because if it wasn’t, well, we wouldn’t be in this position right now. And so what I would like to see from the summit is that they actually listen to us for once, and show us that they’re willing to take action. It’s up to them to make the choice to do something radical because we’ve been waiting for too long.
Asli Mwaafrika, 17
Shortridge IB High School — Indianapolis, Indiana
How is climate change affecting your home and daily life? In Indianapolis, we are definitely seeing more erratic weather. The summers are getting hotter, and the unpredictable and changing temperatures are wreaking havoc on our public infrastructure and agriculture. My family has a garden, and we couldn’t harvest anything this year, and the local urban farmers that we work with are also facing these challenges. Especially since our local grocery store options that provide fresh produce are limited, it makes it even more important to practice food sovereignty.
“unpredictable and changing temperatures are wreaking havoc on our public infrastructure and agriculture.”
Why are you joining in the climate strike? It is incredibly impactful for young people to raise awareness among other young people on the power they have to affect change. Especially as a Black youth, our voices are underrepresented in the broader climate conversation even though we are often the most impacted. We have seen many mass shootings, witnessed climate catastrophes both natural and man-made, seen viral videos of police brutality that have popped up on our newsfeeds, including one at our school. Young people are fed up and demanding change and calling for justice, including myself.
What solutions do you want to see come out of the strike and UN climate events this month? I want to see tangible, long-term solutions that address the root causes of the climate crisis: holding industries accountable, more recognition of young people of color in frontline communities. We will be here facing the brunt of the climate crisis when power is looking to escape and propagate false solutions.
“The choices we make now are going to affect the decisions of tomorrow.”
Simon Montelongo, 22
Indigenous Environmental Network — Cherokee, North Carolina
How is climate change affecting your home and daily life? Most people don’t know this, but the “smoke” in the Great Smoky Mountains where I live is actually made up of very fine droplets of rain. This abundant rainfall makes Great Smoky Mountain National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway a stunning place surrounded by dense forests. Mother Nature is our home here, but climate change is impacting how the clouds form, meaning we have less cloud cover and more heavy storms that damage the forests. Heavy storms mean more flash floods and a change in the environment.
Why are you joining in the climate strike? I’m joining the climate strike (I’ll be at the #FrontlineClimateStrike in Brooklyn) so that I can show the youth from my area that the ideas we bring to the table in our community can help change the future.
What solutions do you want to see come out of the strike and UN climate events this month? I hope that people who attend get the understanding of the necessity to care for our climate. The choices we make now are going to affect the decisions of tomorrow. I hope people learn the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, and the second best is today. I hope our leaders understand that the best time to start addressing climate change was 20 years ago, but the second best time is today.
“Climate change has forced our community to become our own first responders.”
Nyeisha Mallett, 18
UPROSE — Brooklyn, New York
Cooper Union School of Art
How is climate change affecting your home and daily life? Climate change impacts my home and community not only physically but economically. When a superstorm like Hurricane Sandy hits communities of color like mine, we are completely unprepared, underfunded, and without the resources that we need to rebuild. Climate change affects our health, our bodies, and our way of living. What is so amazing is that after Hurricane Sandy hit, the people in our community came to us at [my organization] UPROSE and urged them to help prepare them for the next storm. They want to learn how to adapt to the changing climate and take matters into their own hands to lead the recovery and preparation efforts in our community. Climate change has forced our community to become our own first responders.
“I have a duty to protect the earth.”
Why are you joining in the climate strike? I have a duty to protect the earth and use my voice to help represent people of color and our frontline communities who are fighting day and night to just survive climate change. For this movement to be successful, it has to be intergenerational and aligned with frontline-led movements. There has to be a culture of practice that is committed to building just relationships.
What solutions do you want to see come out of the strike and UN climate events this month? I hope to see a real push for a just transition to come out of this strike and the UN climate events this month. That means we stop extractive economies and extractive fixes and build a regenerative economy where everyone can thrive. I want to see the people in “power” take climate and our lives seriously and recognize that long-term solutions will come from the frontline communities who are experiencing the brunt of the climate crisis.
“I would love to see everyone finally own up to the fact that mistakes were made.”
Aqelah Miyzaan, 17
East Michigan Environmental Action Council
Michigan Online School — Detroit, Michigan
How is climate change affecting your home and daily life? Pollution affects my entire community, not just me, and climate change is making air pollution a lot worse. I live down the street from an incinerator, and this causes a lot of asthma and breathing problems in my community. Before we moved here, we never had allergies. But now, we are sick all the time from the pollutants in the air.
Why are you joining in the climate strike? I am joining the climate strike — and the fight for climate and environmental justice — for a better future for my siblings and the generations to come. I am looking forward to working with my brothers and sisters on the front line fight against climate change to learn about how our community can stand up to polluters and make sure that we aren’t forced to live like this.
What solutions do you want to see come out of the strike and UN climate events this month? I would love to see everyone finally own up to the fact that mistakes were made. That’s the first step to fixing the problem. Only when we own up to these mistakes can we start to make progress toward a greener solution.
Azalea Danes, 16
Bronx High School of Science — New York, New York
How is climate change affecting your home and daily life? When I was 10 years old, my family lived in the evacuation zone of lower Manhattan during Hurricane Sandy. I remember being 10 years old and standing on the steps of my home and watching the floodwaters in the Hudson River come up to my doorstep, which was quite a profound moment. I didn’t realize at the time how important that moment was going to be to me for the rest of my life.
Why are you joining in the climate strike? I have been working to organize and will be joining the climate march in order to stand for justice and [against] the injustice that has plagued communities around the world. The fact that this crisis has not been publicized as something that’s happening right now is in part why I’m striking, in order to gain attention.
“The climate strike is not the end goal. It’s only a catalyst for future mobilization.”
What solutions do you want to see come out of the strike and UN climate events this month? Here in New York City for the climate strike, we have three main demands. Number one is no fossil fuels in any part of our democracy or media so that the fossil fuel industry loosens its grip on people in power. The second one is a just transition to 100 percent renewable energy. We understand there are many people around the world whose livelihoods are dependent upon the fossil fuel industry. And it is not their fault. It just is the matter of their circumstances. We want to ensure that every single person whose job is affected by this transition, their livelihood can be replaced with renewable and green energy.
The third demand is hold polluters accountable. We believe that every single person who has perpetrated these atrocities, the people who are polluting our planet and our oceans, need to be held accountable for what they have done and the injustice that they have caused. The climate strike is not the end goal. It’s only a catalyst for future mobilization. We will not end striking and stop acting until our demands are met.
“Oh my god, it’s climate change, it’s coming for us.”
Iris Zhan, 15
River Hill High School — Clarksville, Maryland
How is climate change affecting your home and daily life? I live in Howard County. We’ve been affected by a ton of catastrophic flooding. I have to say that the 2018 one really affected me more because I vividly remember what it was like being out there. I was like, “Oh my god, it’s climate change, it’s coming for us.” I was in the car with one of my parents, and we were just stranded in the middle of the road as it was pouring down. We eventually got home and we saw extreme horror on television as it was just everywhere. All the terrible flooding. It was super fast. Huge. It wasn’t that bad where we were at, but it was still bad enough.
Why are you joining in the climate strike? I know climate change is going to affect me so much right now and in the future. And it’s just really unfair that we have to deal with this. I really believe that the youth must rise up because we’re kind of the last hope at this point for the climate crisis. And if we are we mobilized fast enough and if we keep at it, we might actually have a chance at beating the climate crisis, and we might have a chance at actually having a future. It’s all up to us.
What solutions do you want to see come out of the strike and UN climate events this month? I’d like to have a comprehensive, just plan that gets us to that 100 percent renewable target we need to be at. We need to decarbonize our economy completely.
We have to be aggressive because being more aggressive and transformative will get us in a better place than we are today. That’s what I’d like to see. To see things happening, and not just talking the talk.