Fort Collins students strike against climate change

Meagan Stackpool

Local Fort Collins high school students organized a strike protesting climate change in conjunction with thousands of similar demonstrations held in 123 countries, in 2,052 places and across all seven continents. 

The strike, which was held from noon to 2 p.m. Friday in Library Park, featured numerous speakers, including students and members of the community. The rally also had numerous musical pieces performed by students.

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Julia Klein, an assistant professor of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability at Colorado State University, delivered a speech detailing the necessity of proactive climate change policies and the positive change that has already occurred.

“We know that climate change is affecting disproportionately those who are poor, those who are marginalized and those who don’t have voices,” Klein said.

Klein said that there is hope in finding solutions to climate change, but that action needs to be taken faster. 

Fort Collins students of all ages rally for climate change on Friday, March 15, 2019. The strike was organized by local high school students in tandem with similar demonstrations around the world. (Meagan Stackpool | The Rocky Mountain Collegian.)

The movement, which was organized by students, originally started online in an effort to be more eco-friendly. Taryn Sebba, a senior at Fort Collins High School and one of the student organizers, explained the steps they took to organize the rally.

“A lot of this was a grassroots effort,” Sebba said. “We tried to be really ecologically conscientious because we didn’t want to have flyers, we didn’t want to hang up posters since that would be using a lot of paper, so we did a lot of social media advertising.”

During the rally, organizers also passed around non-binding petitions to ban plastic bags in the City of Fort Collins and impose a tax on other types of single-use bags. 

Students of all ages attended the strike, alongside active members of the community. Community member Teresa Bagshaw expressed why she felt it important for generations beyond just students should show their support.

“I hope that it empowers the kids that are here and lets them know that they have a lot of support, not just from their own cohorts, but also from the community as a whole,” Bagshaw said. “I feel it’s really important for them to know that we created (climate change) but we would like to help solve it as well.”

Intermittently, the crowd would chant phrases like “This is what democracy looks like” and “1-2-3-4 this is what we’re fighting for, 5-6-7-8 separate oil and state.” When two trucks began circling the park and revved their engines over the speakers, the crowd chanted back, “our voices are louder than your engines.”

Schools teach us about how to stand up for ourselves, how to speak and how to get involved with what’s going on in our communities and in our world. If schools are going to teach us that we are going to use those skills.” Maddy Chong, a senior at Fossil Ridge High School.

The international youth climate strike movement began when a sixteen-year-old from Sweden began protesting her government’s inaction on climate change. Greta Thunberg began skipping school Friday, Aug 10, 2018, and sat outside the Swedish Parliament in protest, The Guardian reports. She has since skipped every Friday since.

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Stateside, several of the speeches on Friday referenced the court case Juliana v. United States, citing the group of youths who have sued the United States government as an example of what young people are doing to take action.

According to the non-profit organization Our Children’s Trust, which files lawsuits on behalf of young people, they are suing under the claim that “ through the government’s affirmative actions that cause climate change, it has violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property, as well as failed to protect essential public trust resources.”

In response to allegations that the strike was simply an excuse for students to skip class, Maddy Chong, a senior at Fossil Ridge High School, said that assumption was not true.

“Schools teach us about how to stand up for ourselves, how to speak, and how to get involved with what’s going on in our communities and in our world,” Chong said. “If schools are going to teach us that we are going to use those skills.”

During her speech, Klein emphasized the need to keep having calm, frank conversations about climate change.  

“Understand people’s values and understand how a changing climate is threatening those values,” Klein said. “Find common ground and reach across it.”

Meagan Stackpool can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @MeaganStackpool