On Friday, tens of thousands of people took to the streets in New York City for the Global Climate Strike. Chants of ‘Save our planet’ and “Hey hey, ho ho, climate change has got to go” broke out above the pulse of drums and the energetic roar of a crowd in Foley Square. Similar scenes had already played out in Australia, South Africa, Germany, Indonesia, and many more places around the world.
Even a group of researchers from Antarctica decided to join the movement, bringing the protests to all seven continents.
The event brought millions onto the streets ahead of a summit at the United Nations on Monday, during which world leaders are expected to start making changes to their overall emissions. António Guterres, the UN’s Secretary-General is expecting “concrete, realistic plans” from nations, with the ultimate goal of reaching net zero emissions by 2050.
The protesters that took to the streets have high expectations too. “We want the world leaders at the UN Climate Action Summit to get off fossil fuels, have a just transition to renewable energy, and hold polluters accountable. We believe that polluters need to be held accountable because of their violation of our future” Alexandria Villaseñor, a 14-year-old climate activist, told The Verge in New York before the rally in downtown Manhattan kicked off.
In New York City, 1.1 million students were excused from school if they got their parent or guardian’s permission to join the strike, and it seemed like many took the city up on their offer. Students from elementary through high school were well represented, carrying handmade signs (at least two held aloft on green light sabers), chanting, and in many cases bringing their equally climate-minded parents along for the ride.
Avery Tsai, 9, was there with her mother Elizabeth Payne. Tsai wearing a cape covered with political buttons, and a cardboard house wreathed with flames that she’d constructed with her friend Lila Hart, 6. The girls’ creation was a reference to climate activist Greta Thunberg’s famous ‘Our house is on fire’ speech. Payne had showed Tsai YouTube videos of Thunberg hoping to inspire her. “I want her to be a citizen of the world,” Payne said.
Representatives from the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities, representing indigenous people and community groups from around the world were there in force, with a delegate headed to the United Nations’ Youth Climate Summit on September 21.
Employees of Google, Amazon and Microsoft had also pledged in advance to walk out for the strike. Lydia Holness, who works at Google’s Creative Lab was marching with a sign that read ‘Zero Carbon Emissions By 2030.’
“I’m here because I care, and I think we need to make radical changes,” she said, noting that she was there in part because of her daughter, about to turn 15, who was also marching with her friends.
As a whole, the crowd was a mix of teenagers, younger children and their parents, hardened climate activists, unions in matching t-shirts, and many, many signs. Some were simply scrawled marker on brown cardboard, others were political, and a decent amount were memes.
March On co-founder Vanessa Wruble, who helped organize the marches in the United States, said that there were over 1,000 strikes planned across the country, with 15 flagship marches in major cities.
Other climate-related events were happening in parallel around New York City. Across the river from Manhattan, the Climate Justice for Youth Summit kicked off with a demonstration focused on climate justice in Brooklyn. And before the rally in Manhattan, protestors memorialized the second anniversary of Hurricane Maria’s landfall in Puerto Rico.
Every one of the millions of people who came out on Friday had a different motivation, whether they marched for a child, or their lost childhood, or their community. There was joyful dancing, and earnest lectures blaring through megaphones. Enthusiastically glittered signs comfortably marched next to broadsides calling for the blood of polluters. There was hope in people’s eyes — and also fear.
But no matter what brought them to this point, a central belief brought them all together. Something needs to change. We need to change. The current path is simply unsustainable.