By Esther Sun and Sofia Rossi
Residents from all over the South Bay Area gathered at Diridon Station to participate in a local movement of the Global Climate Strike and demand action to address climate change on Fri., Sept. 20. Walking a little over a mile from the train station to the San Jose City Hall Plaza, protestors wielded colorful signs and shouted slogans like, “Show me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!”
Inspired by 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, the global youth-led climate strike, “Fridays for Future,” drew over 4 million people to the streets worldwide in 150 countries, marking it as the largest climate strike in history. The Sept. 20 date was planned so the protests would precede the United Nations Emergency Climate Summit on Sept. 23.
As climate change grows increasingly imminent – with a forecasted global temperature rise of 2.5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century and a projected deadline of twelve years before climate change becomes irreversible – much of the American public has fostered deepening concern and anger about the federal government’s refusal to take action.
Though the US is the second largest producer of carbon emissions in the world, the Trump Administration has worked to eliminate many environmental regulations. On June 1, 2017, Trump announced a decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. More recently, he disclosed his plan to revoke California’s Federal Waiver to set its own auto emissions standards that are more strict than the nation’s. Following the announcement, California threatened a legal battle with the federal government to maintain current laws on auto pollution. Since 1967, the state’s stricter air pollution laws have worked to lower greenhouse gas emissions and uphold clean air standards. The nationwide debate over the adequacy of US auto emissions regulations fueled protestors in the September climate strikes.
The San Jose strike alone produced a turnout of several hundred people amassed in a large crowd at the San Jose City Hall Plaza to hear speeches from local youth climate activists and politicians. Among the speakers were Ash Kalra, California State Assembly member, Shahid Buttar, who is running against Nancy Pelosi in the 2020 Democratic Congressional primary, and San Jose City Mayor Samuel Liccardo.
“In a nation without leadership from the White House, it’s critical that cities step up,” Liccardo told El Gato News after his speech. “Seventy percent of CO2 emissions come from cities, and collectively mayors have shown that cities working together can move the needle in our battle against climate change.”
“Behavior modification is the most powerful tool” that everyday people can implement to contribute to the sustainability effort, according to Liccardo. “We periodically make the choice about what we’re driving, and we have opportunities to think about how we spend our scarce resources in our own homes. There are a lot of programs that are widely available to the city and to PG&E to retrofit our homes to make them more energy efficient and utilize things like solar water heaters. So, it’s really about our own behavior and our own individual decisions that collectively have a real impact.”
Among the many youth present at the rally were high school juniors Leilani Hsiao and Githika Annapureddy. Hsiao and Annapureddy run a student club at Evergreen Valley High School called Forever Green Environmental Club, wherein members advocate for policies to mitigate climate change.
“Denial is not a policy,” said Hsiao, quoting a popular protest slogan. “We actually need to make changes if we want a better future. This is our future.”
Peter Pham, a student at De Anza College who took part in organizing the San Jose climate strike, further explained, “I’m trying to leverage all of the people in my community on the East side to really get involved in this. This is a really big coalition, where it’s not just that all the youths are involved but it’s everyone of all ages, of all generations, of all backgrounds, of all geographic locations, so we can really make a difference for our future.”
Youth protesters refuse to quit; the next global climate strike was on Fri., Sept. 27. The demonstration will follow the UN Climate Action Summit, which many referred to as a “disappointment,” with little or no plan of action from the world’s largest carbon emitters: China, India, and the United States.
At the summit, leaders from almost 200 countries convened in New York to discuss how to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. Sixty-five countries announced their commitment to a net-zero future by 2050. The 30 year target left activists such as Thunberg criticizing stagnant and relaxed global efforts to combat climate change.
“The popular idea of cutting our emissions in half in 10 years only gives us a 50% chance of staying below 1.5 degrees, and the risk of setting off irreversible chain reactions beyond human control,” Thunberg stressed in her speech to the UN. She also stated that with no change to today’s emissions levels, the “remaining CO2 budget will be entirely gone within less than 8 1/2 years.”
With global anxiety and discontent surrounding the climate crisis at an all-time high, activists continue to protest leaders’ neglect in hopes of universal change and a sustainable future.
“Fight for your future,” Pham said, when asked what he would encourage young people to do regarding climate change. “That’s it. Fight for your future and fight for the vision you want to see for our world and our communities.”
(Sources: The Atlantic, NBC, The Washington Post, CNN, CARB, Vox, NPR, IPCC)
To view the photos that El Gato News captured at the strike, click here