Youth activism brings the heat to climate policy

Young people have made their voices matter in the debate for climate policy all across the globe this year, and Oregon has been no different.

Youth activism centered on climate change climate justice is on the rise. The Guardian, this month, called their growing activism “Generation Greta,” named after Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish activist who inspired millions of students to walk out of school this March. In May, a second walkout drew more than 1.5 million young people in 125 countries, and they continue to do so.

Cover photo of OEC’s multimedia recap of the Portland’s Youth Climate Strike on March 15.

Oregon Environmental Council staff stood in awe this year as our own state’s youth organized thousands to rally at City Hall or schools in Portland, on Main Street at Heppner City, outside a federal courthouse in Eugene, at the steps of the Capitol in Salem as well as Bend, Corvallis, Albany and more. Others students organized days of action to lobby lawmakers inside the building in March.

And so many of us, the adults, have proudly stood side-by-side with student leaders urging strong climate action throughout the year. Youth voices have joined the small business owners to farmworkers to Indian Tribes to fishermen who know the window is closing and Oregon leadership is needed to stop the climate emergency.

Youth climate leaders gather for training in April 2019.

Our friends at Renew Oregon provided support to student organizers, who gathered more than 115 youth from Portland, Salem, Pendleton, Eugene, Sweet Home and Tualition to lobby for the Clean Energy Jobs bill. Another 3,000 students signed a petition that was delivered multiple times to lawmakers this year.

In Portland on March 15, thousands of students rallied outside City Hall joining millions of youth who walked out of the classroom in protest in cities all over the world.

Jeremy Clark, Cleveland High School freshman, speaks to a crowd of thousands of fellow students about climate change during a massive classroom walkout March 15, 2019 in Portland. (Photo courtesy: Sunrise Movement PDX)

Jeremy Clark, a Cleveland freshman who has lobbied for a cap-and-invest program in Oregon and recently launched Affected Generation, reminded thousands of his peers about a quote from Thunberg saying “our house is on fire.”

“She’s right,” Clark said. “Our house is on fire. And when your house is on fire, you do not play silly partisan games. You do not deny that your house is on fire. You take action because our futures are on the line and nobody has the right to take it away from us, no matter how rich they are. To the elected officials who take massive campaign donations from big coal and big oil, who spread doubt about the credibility of climate scientists, and who deliberately and consistently delay efforts to mitigate climate change, know that we will not stop because our world is on fire. We will vote you out.”

A student speaks her thoughts about climate change during a massive classroom walkout March 15, 2019 in Portland. (Photo courtesy: Sunrise Movement PDX)

Thunberg has continued to encourage, inspire and connect thousands of youth doing similar rallies and protests, which includes #FridaysForFuture, a global student campaign with events in Colombia, Turkey, England, Uganda, Germany, Pakistan, Argentina, Russia, Brazil, and much more.

“Dear people of this world,” said a student activist outside Portland City Hall in March. “We have 12 years before catastrophic irreversible climate change arises.  So I strongly advise that we realize and open our eyes before the problem amplifies and stop before we continue to jeopardize our future. The earth is warming and giving us warnings and we need to listen.”

The global climate emergency has no better voice than the students who face a dire future that scientists say could be filled with catastrophic climate change. In Oregon, here’s what just a few more Oregon youth have had to say this year.

March 15 – Charlie Abrams, Cleveland High School, 15:

This is not a partisan issue. We are all working together for the same cause. Hundreds of thousands of youth across the world are showing this is a united force. That we will all face. We must all deal with together. Drastic effects across the world, that people are seeing in their day to day lives, and with the thousands of youth here, we have commitments that we can stop this.

Earth Day (April 22, 2019) — Ian Curtis, South Eugene High School alumnus, 18:

I got the chance to visit Silver Falls State Park, and I was blown away by its immense beauty. The forethought of previous generations to preserve this place should be inspiring to today’s lawmakers when determining the fate of our climate’s future. Part of being an Oregonian to me means the intimate connection between our people and our land. But that could change, if our state continues to be torn apart by devastating climate change.

Earth Day (April 22, 2019) — Ruby Haack, Grant High School, 17:

Left: Ruby & Edith

Youth in particular can feel exceptionally small within the movement, especially when you’re not yet a voting age, but youth all over the world are rising up because we have no other choice. It is our future that we are fighting for.

Earth Day (April 22, 2019) — Edith Allen, Grant High School, 17:

I’ve been lucky enough to be a student leader at outdoor school four times. Learning and teaching about the way climate change impacts our world’s natural resources has made me realize that we must take action now. Climate change is getting worse every year. 

June 25, 2019 — Eddy Binford-Ross, South Salem High School, 16:

Right now we are only beginning to feel the consequences of climate change, across the world and in Oregon. In Oregon, we have seen a rise in wildfires, more drought and we’re losing snow. So I think that HB 2020 is crucial and we need to lead the way as a state in combating this crisis. Climate change is a threat to our world and to our way of life here in Oregon. Oregon is known for its nature and climate change is threatening that.

June 25, 2019 — Yusuf Arifin, Cedar Park Middle School, 13:

I see no reason at all why someone would not want to support a bill on climate change. Climate change is affecting everyone. By not supporting climate change, we are not going to have the same things we have today when we grow up. All the kids today will be forced to live in a completely disastrous environment if Oregon does nothing on climate change. Everyone has a moral obligation to do something on climate change. Everyone has a moral obligation to do something on climate change and when our senators are not voting on this bill, it shows that we are going to have to face the damages in the future.


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