Young people in Massachusetts — and around the world — will cut class on Friday to send a message to adults: Do something about climate change.
The Youth Climate Strike is inspired by 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who has been protesting regularly outside of the Swedish Parliament House for months.
In Massachusetts, the main protest is at the State House in Boston, but strikers will also descend on Cambridge, Great Barrington, Worcester and Acton, among other municipalities.
The teens are demanding that elected officials support the Green New Deal, stop all fossil fuel infrastructure projects, make decisions based on scientific facts, declare a national emergency on climate change, require climate change to be incorporated in K-8 education, preserve public land and wildlife, and protect the water supply.
We spoke with co-leaders of the state's Youth Climate Strike, 17-year-old Amalia Hochman of Somerville and 16-year-old Saraphina Forman of Northampton, about the movement and what drives them to action. Here is a lightly edited version of the conversation:
When did you get involved in climate activism and why?
Forman: Environmental activism is something that I’ve always found important because it’s about protecting the most basic thing we have, the planet we live on. I’ve always looked for ways to make an impact because I have been given so many privileges in life, and I believe it’s my responsibility to help protect the future.
With climate change, you read about it and see more and more natural disasters; you know it’s an imminent threat. But then the U.N.’s IPCC report came out last year [and] it pushed me even further to take action. The report is clear cut: Either we take these 11 years and stay below the 2 degrees or we don’t. And there’s no second chance. There’s so much at stake.
In terms of the Youth Climate Strike, my friend sent me a video of Greta Thunberg, the Swedish climate activist, and it inspired me. What she says is so true. How can we just go on living our normal lives and doing business as usual when our leaders are doing nothing? We’re on the edge of an extinction here. We can’t ignore the threat.
Hochman: I was raised around activism; my parents took me to protests when I was a kid and I went to big climate protest in New York City when I was in seventh grade.
Last year, after the Parkland shooting, my friends and I did a lot of organizing. We walked out of school and helped with the March for Our Lives: Boston. Since then, I’ve been trying to get involved in as many youth-led movements as possible.
If you could tell adults and people in charge one thing about climate change, what would it be?
Forman: The big message is that climate change is not a problem we’re trying to solve. We have the solution and the facts and the data and the science. Now it’s about getting together to make the right decisions.
Hochman: We have 11 years left to really start changing things. It could have been turned around in the past, but the people in power didn’t do it. So we need to do this now. It’s extremely time sensitive and we’re not going to wait.
What do you hope to accomplish with the Youth Climate Strike?
Forman: We’re hoping to impact the business leaders and politicians who refuse to accept the situation. It’s true that one voice might not have an impact, but with the hundreds of thousands of voices that will be amplified [Friday] when hundreds of thousands of kids miss school and call for action now, I think that kind of disruption will show world leaders that they have to take action.
I also hope we can show them that this is not just one day, not just one moment of solidarity. This is a movement and we won’t give up until they take appropriate action.
We’ll have youth speakers and music [Friday], and then we’re going to go inside the State House to lobby and meet with legislators. This strike isn’t just a protest, it’s also a symbol of moving forward and making progress on climate change legislation.
Hochman: I want to show the country and the world that young people are going to keep taking a stand — keep showing up — until we can start ending climate change. We’re not going to stop fighting because this is our future we’re talking about.
There are so many issues going on in the world — racism, sexism, gun violence. I’d like the opportunity to end those problems, but if we don’t fix climate change, I won’t get that chance. I’d like to see the world after my 30th birthday, and I worry I won’t if we don't start turning things around.
What makes you hopeful?
Forman: Although climate change is a huge threat, I’m optimistic because of the success we’ve seen with big movements like this in the past. Although there hasn’t been anything quite like the threat of climate change before, all of the people I see working on it around the world makes me hopeful and optimistic. I think we can make change, and we’ll keep fighting for it. Because if we stop, we’re just surrendering to extinction.
Hochman: I think that climate change can feel really discouraging to people because it’s this huge thing. I think a lot of people feel like, “I’m just one person and I can’t make a difference.” But youth-led movements have an incredible feeling of hope, which is good. This strike is going to be fun and full of hopeful people. Young people don't feel discouraged; we feel like we can do anything we put our minds to.