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Teens are striking for climate action in 100 U.S. cities today—will mayors listen?

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Students are walking out of school as part of a coordinated global strike

Students march in San Francisco to protest government inaction on climate change. Strikes happened in over 100 U.S. cities.
AP Photo/Ben Margot

Students in over 100 U.S. cities are walking out of class today to demand accelerated action on climate change from government leaders, part of a coordinated strike involving an estimated 1.4 million students at 2,000 locations in at least 123 countries worldwide.

“We, the youth of America, are striking because the science says we have just a few years to transform our energy system, reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, and prevent the worst effects of climate change,” reads the statement from Youth Climate Strike, a national group organizing the U.S. strikes.

The #FridaysForFuture strikes were launched last August by Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old activist and now Nobel Peace Prize nominee who gained global recognition after she began walking out of her high school each Friday to protest on the steps of Swedish parliament.

Thunberg’s actions spawned an international movement, where large-scale climate protests have been staged in cities and at major events worldwide each Friday. Thunberg herself delivered a scathing speech at the COP 24 climate summit in Katowice, Poland, last December— following the release of a dire United Nations report—and another at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

“Adults keep saying: ‘We owe it to the young people to give them hope.’” Thunberg said in January. “But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.”

The global student strike was acknowledged by city leaders worldwide, many of whom are part of C40, a coalition of cities working together on coordinated climate action.

“It’s a solemn reminder of why the movement to curb the impacts of global warming is so important—so these kids have the same right to a healthy and thriving earth,” said Portland, Oregon’s Mayor Ted Wheeler. “That right only comes with an environment that is not decimated by climate change. That’s what we’re fighting for.”

Several U.S. mayors issued statements pledging to work more closely with the striking students.

“Students from Austin and around the world are sparking a movement to demand that their leaders take notice and commit to fight climate change,” said Austin Mayor Steve Adler. “Mayors have taken notice and I vow to work with these young people to ensure we preserve this world for future generations.”

Many of the proposals in Youth Climate Strike’s platform are mirrored by the Green New Deal, including a push for environmental justice reforms focused on helping marginalized communities most likely to be affected by climate change. This includes the elimination of fossil fuel infrastructure, which Youth Climate Strike’s platform says “disproportionately impacts indigenous communities and communities of color in a negative way.”

Just this week Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti—who is running for chair of C40—closed a major oil drilling site in a South LA residential neighborhood. Earlier this year, Garcetti also announced the shuttering of three natural gas plants as part of the city’s plan to go carbon-neutral by 2050.

That’s not fast enough for some LA-based student activists involved in today’s strike.

“We are already feeling the disastrous effects of climate change with the increase of wildfires in Los Angeles and greater California,” said Arielle Martinez Cohen, a singer and songwriter who is coordinating the strike at LA’s City Hall today. “With the climate strikes, we are taking back the power and demanding to be heard by our elected officials.”

The urgency to keep pressure on local elected officials was echoed by LA student organizer Jesus Villalba. “We cannot continue to allow the older generations to ignore the chaos to come,” he said. “Through what is essentially dining and dashing, very few are becoming overwhelmingly powerful at the expense of the lives of all future generations.”