Petaluma students rally for climate change action

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Dozens of students from schools throughout Petaluma answered a global call to walk out of class and march for action on climate change Friday, protesting what they see as a failure from leaders to adequately respond to an issue that has grave consequences for future generations.

Using social media and word of mouth, hundreds of thousands of children participated in grassroots rallies across the world. Friday’s climate strike continued the momentum created by 16-year-old activist Greta Thunberg, who began demonstrating outside the Swedish parliament last year, and was recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Students from Casa Grande High School and Live Oak Charter School gathered for a rally at Petaluma Regional Library at 8:30 a.m., and were joined by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), who praised their civil disobedience in a fight for tougher climate policies – even if it meant missing school.

“I think there does come a time when there’s an issue and a cause that is so important that you have to engage in some unconventional tactics,” Huffman said. “All over the country and all over the world, young people are finding their voice on climate change. It’s one of the best things to happen on this issue in the whole time I’ve been working on it, and trust me, I’ve been beating my head against this wall for a long time.”

Casa Grande senior Celeste Chavez, a co-organizer of Friday’s strike, spoke to the consequences of another half-degree rise in global temperature, which has increased by nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit over the last century, according to NASA.

She mentioned the loss of the coral reef ecosystems, sea level rise that could engulf numerous coastal cities worldwide, and food shortages due to the drastic changes in the environment.

“Not only is this an issue for our environment, this is a global state of emergency that will affect each and every one of us standing on this earth,” Chavez said. “I’m here to claim our right for clean air, fresh water, uninterrupted education and a sustainable planet. I’m angry that I cannot truthfully say our planet is in good hands.”

After speeches from Casa senior Lucia Garay and representatives from Indivisible Petaluma, the rally mobilized, filling the sidewalks along the East Washington Street overpass, chanting slogans and getting honked at by drivers showing support.

A separate group took to the pedestrian bridge behind the East Washington Place shopping center, protesting near construction crews that were clearing trees for the Highway 101 widening project.

The local rallies also follow back-to-back years of Northern California wildfires that were the deadliest and most costly in the state’s history, a situation experts say is exacerbated by heat-trapping gases that continue to pour into the Earth’s atmosphere. Last year, California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment found wildfires larger than 25,000 acres could become 50 percent more frequent if greenhouse gas emissions are not curtailed.

According to Point Blue, a Petaluma conservation nonprofit that conducted coastal studies for the most recent climate assessment, recently published projections forecast 10 inches of sea level rise in California within 30 years.

At every high tide, this could mean flooded areas where 37,000 people live and 13,000 people work, taking an economic toll of approximately $8 billion, according to Point Blue’s findings.

“I honestly think this is more important than school at the moment because climate change is happening right now, and it’s getting worse each day,” said Casa Grande senior Emily Rosa. “The choices we make every day really do affect our environment. It’s important to take a stand and let your voice be heard.”

One driver of the youth-led rallies in the United States was garnering support for the Green New Deal, legislation introduced in the House in February by freshman U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York. It aims to combat climate change by eliminating all U.S. carbon emissions and transitioning to sustainable energy. President Donald Trump has claimed the proposal will cost $100 trillion and attacked the bill, citing its potential to shut down the nation’s energy sector.

Later in the morning on Friday, nearly two dozen students from the Mary Collins School at Cherry Valley and McNear Elementary walked out of class at 11 a.m. and marched along Petaluma Boulevard, shouting carefully crafted slogans to raise awareness along one of the city’s largest thoroughfares.

“When the earth we need is under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back,” they chanted.

Mayor Teresa Barrett met the group on the steps of the Petaluma Historical Museum, and championed their efforts at taking on a major issue. She invited them to speak up at the city council’s goal-setting session on April 6 and advocate for policies that local officials can pursue over the next two years.

“Whatever action we take or don’t take, they’re the ones that are going to be the beneficiaries or victims of that,” Barrett said. “I’m glad that they’re trying to point it out to us that we need to do something. We’ve got to be thinking about this.”

Olive Baecker, an eighth-grader at Cherry Valley, helped organize her school’s walkout, and said she felt a sense of pride and power marching along Petaluma Boulevard.

“People are always saying that we need to end climate change but then we don’t do anything,” Baecker said. “I wanted to step up and actually do something.”

(Press Democrat reporters Nashelly Chavez and Kevin Fixler contributed to this report. Contact News Editor Yousef Baig at yousef.baig@arguscourier.com or 776-8461, and on Twitter @YousefBaig.)

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