ASU students join youth activists to demand climate change action at Arizona Capitol

The students were among thousands of environmental activists protesting across the country

Hundreds gathered at the Arizona State Capitol on Friday afternoon to join a world-wide, youth-led movement to draw attention to climate change and call on elected officials to take action against it.

While the march in Phoenix was organized by two local high school students, it was attended by young activists and supporters from ASU, ASU alumni and local lawmakers, all of whom demanded action from elected officials. 

The Arizona Climate Strike was co-led by two Phoenix area high school students, including BASIS Phoenix Central charter school junior Aditi Narayanan, 16, who said the goal of the demonstration was to spur community involvement and that she was moved to take action after observing the deleterious impacts of climate change in her community.

“A lot of people think climate change is this distant idea of some glacier, melting 2000 miles away," Narayanan said. "But I realized the impact on my community. I noticed the summers were getting hotter, I noticed the drought especially in a lot of agricultural communities and I noticed extreme weather conditions."

The demonstration comes amid debates in Washington, where some Democratic lawmakers are pushing a sweeping environmental regulatory measure known as "The Green New Deal," and as the Trump administration continues to roll back environmental regulations. 

Read More: ASU prioritizes sustainability while Trump rolls back climate change policies

The protest in Phoenix draws from the "climate strike" movement, which originated in Sweden with a single protest by a then-15-year-old environmental activist Greta Thunberg in August 2018. 

Thunberg has continued to protest every Friday, and has since given a now-viral speech before the UN chastising adults for a lack of action on climate change and has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize

From that lone protest, the movement exploded, gaining traction across Europe and the U.S. as local, state and federal leaders began to hash out policy answers to climate questions. On Friday, it arrived at the Arizona Capitol, along with hundreds of other capitols around the world.

Climate change activism has seen a groundswell of grassroots non-profit groups, like Defend Our Future, a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy group.

ASU's chapter of Defend Our Future attended the Phoenix strike to support the young students. Freshman political science major Phoebe Wells, who attended the march with the ASU chapter, said that the organization wanted to show that younger students are passionate about environmental issues. 

"We have a really bad reputation for not having great political advocacy," Wells said. "Even though these issues might not pertain directly to college students right now, climate change is going to affect everyone." 

That demand for change is one of the defining principles Thunberg shared in a speech she gave in Davos, Switzerland, calling on economists to help solve the problem.

"Some say we should not engage in activism," Thunberg said in her speech. "Instead we should leave everything to our politicians and just vote for a change instead. But what do we do when there is no political will? What do we do when the politics needed are nowhere in sight?" 

Some of the speakers at the Phoenix march spoke about the importance of the 2020 election and shared their support for policy changes like the Green New Deal. 

Sarra Tekola, a doctoral student at ASU studying sustainability, spoke at the event. Tekola emphasized promoting equity in environmental activism, a "just transition" from current energy jobs into those that would be supported by the Green New Deal, and her support of environmentally aware candidates regardless of party.

"We are not going to go by party affiliation," she said. "We are not going to protect the Democrats because, if you don't support the Green New Deal, you're no different." 

Among the demonstrators was state Sen. Juan Mendez (D-Tempe).

"To me, being anti-Green New Deal is the same as being pro-extinction of the human race," Mendez said.

The Green New Deal is a massive policy proposal that aims to meet lofty goals, ranging from achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, creating "millions of good, high-wage jobs," investing in infrastructure, and securing clean air and water for future generations. 

The deal has been widely criticized as being too ambitious and has been a point of contention in the Democratic party, but it is supported by groups like Defend Our Future. 

Justin Remelius, a sophomore political science and philosophy major who attended the march with Defend Our Future, said that he got involved with the organization because he "can't just sit around anymore and watch our world die."

"Getting involved with organizations on campus, like Defend Our Future, is a good first step," Remelius said. "We also need to talk to our friends more about how what we're doing affects the environment."

A regional organizer for the climate change advocacy organization NextGen Arizona, Maria Eller, said that the youth had a vested interest in climate change because of the outsized impact it is going to have on them. 

"This is absolutely fantastic, to see high schoolers who are out here today taking a stand on climate change and also calling out their elected officials for putting forth policies that really don’t have young people in mind, especially when it comes to our future, which climate change will truly impact," said Eller, an ASU sustainability alumna.

The other co-organizer of the event was Claire Nelson, 16, who said the event was the “beginning of a global movement to address the effect of climate change.” 

Nelson echoed many of the speakers, pointing to the impacts on the climate caused by actions to which they said they did not contribute. 

“In 11 years, climate change will be irreversible,” she said. “It is our futures that will be taken away from us because of the fossil fuels we didn’t burn, the oil we didn’t spill, the politicians we didn’t vote for and the policies that we didn’t write.” 


Reach the reporters at isaac.windes@asu.edu and  cfusillo@asu.edu or follow @isaacdwindes and @KatieFusillo on Twitter.

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