AMHERST — Roughly 200 high school and middle school students skipped class on Friday afternoon to send the world a message: We’re not doing enough to act on climate change.
“No more coal, no more oil. Keep our carbon in the soil,” they shouted as they walked the mile from Amherst Regional High School to the town common.
World leaders are not doing enough to cut emissions and are putting young people’s future at risk, the students said.
“Through this movement, we’re finally providing a voice for our generation,” walkout organizer Naomi Johnson, a junior, told the crowd.
The strike was one of more than 2,000 events in more than 100 countries planned on Friday, according to the Fridays for Future website.
The idea started with a Swedish teenager. Last year, Greta Thunberg started skipping class every Friday to protest her country’s lack of action on climate change outside its parliament. The movement, #FridaysForFuture, spread across the rest of Europe, and other parts of the world, and led to the teenager’s recent nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize.
Thunberg’s story inspired the ARHS students. On Friday, a crowd of mostly middle and high school students, along with some adults carrying signs like “Black Lives Matter/Environmental Justice Now” and “Don’t be a fossil fool,” gathered on the town common to hear young people speak about climate change, environmental justice and the Green New Deal.
“This is our generation’s social-justice movement. It’s our responsibility to protest government inaction,” said ARHS sophomore Rohini Narayanan, pointing out that people of color shoulder a larger burden of climate change and that small island nations are at imminent risk.
In Narayanan’s view, taking shorter showers and using re-usable straws is not enough. “There needs to be systematic, international change,” she told the crowd.
“If we don’t change our ways as individuals and as a society, we will inhabit a bleak future,” Miya Hong, a junior at ARHS, said to the crowd, pointing to the reality of rising temperatures and sea levels, threats to biodiversity and wildfires that devastated California last year.
“We need regulation, and we need it now. Let’s get to carbon neutrality now,” said another student.
Aarti Lamberg spoke about plastic pollution, pointing out that Americans produce 30 million tons of plastic each year. “Our oceans are crowded by wrappers and bottle caps,” Lamberg said.
“A lot of people told us we shouldn’t march and go out,” said Maddie Mcdowell, a seventh-grader at Amherst Middle School.
Her classmate Julia Edgerly told the crowd that her teachers encouraged her not to go to the rally, saying that only a small group of people would walk out. Clearly, Edgerly said, referring to the crowd, that wasn’t true.
A letter from the middle school to parents said some students had planned a short sit-in in the school foyer, but if students still wanted to strike, they would need written permission from a parent or guardian.
In Boston, youth gathered at the Statehouse in a march organized with the help of western Massachusetts high school students.
“We’re on the edge of an extinction here,” Saraphina Forman, a Northampton High School student and a lead organizer of the Boston march, told the Gazette. “There are no second chances. We’re seeing the science, and facts tell us we’re facing a huge crisis — and that’s climate change.”
Amherst Regional High School students said that their work does not end after Friday.
“A walkout is making a statement, but there’s no use if you don’t follow up on the statement,” Johnson said.
They plan to host future discussions about climate action, and they are already working on projects to make their school greener. The school’s Environmental Action Club is planning to install hand dryers in the bathrooms and hoping to bring solar panels to the school, said Johnson, a leader of the group.
Liam Carpenter-Shulman, an ARHS junior, was hopeful that the event will have some lasting impact past Friday. He was pleasantly surprised that the organizers had passed out flyers to everyone about how they can take action on climate change after the strike, including ways to get in touch with their representatives.
It’s not a one-time thing, said Xiaoping Yu, an ARHS junior and strike organizer. “We want this to have lasting effects on our community,” he said.
Greta Jochem can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org