Story by Stephanie Cobb
“What do we want?”
“When do we want it?”
These words echoed across downtown Gainesville last month as hundreds of people of all ages gathered on the steps of Gainesville City Hall and hoisted handmade signs, many made out of recycled cardboard, into the air.
“Climate change is global terra-rism,” read one sign. “There is no Planet B!” proclaimed another.
These protesters were participating in a global climate change strike that brought people in every continent out of their homes, workplaces, and schools and into the streets. The event was timed to precede the Sept. 23 UN Climate Change Summit, in which world leaders met to discuss ways to mitigate carbon emissions. More than 4 million demonstrated in the strike worldwide, many of them children and teenagers.
Gainesville City Commissioner David Arreola, who spoke in front of the crowd at the strike, said, “This is the largest gathering of young people on our city hall steps that I’ve seen in my time here.”
This event marked the second time this year that Gainesville has participated in a worldwide call for climate action; on March 15, 2019, locals also turned out for the Global Climate Strike for Future.
Anton Kernohan, a sophomore political science major at the University of Florida, organized the Gainesville chapter of the September climate change strike. The objective of the rally, as stated on the event’s Facebook page, was to “creat[e] awareness about the urgency in our climate situation.”
This theme of urgency was prevalent throughout the event, with Arreola touching on it in his speech. “We keep talking about how we’ve got eleven years; some say ten. Mother Nature does not work on our time. It’s no longer in our control. We need a federal green new deal,” he said, as the strikers cheered in approval.
There were sixteen speakers in total, many of them young people, such as Elizabeth Walker of Young Leaders for Wild Florida. “I think if big business can be protected legally, why not our springs, our aquifer, our rivers, our life?” Walker asked the crowd.
She then went on to specifically address the preservation of local water sources. “We are just borrowing the Santa Fe River and, really, the planet from future generations, so shouldn’t that be enough reason to protect it?”
In the wake of the UN Climate Change Summit , little action has been taken with regard to governmental policy; however, many companies like Amazon have been taking steps to limit their ecological footprint for months with programs such as Shipment Zero.
The effect that the global strike will have on environmental policy is yet to be seen. One thing is for certain, however; millions of young people around the world care deeply about climate change and, inspired by leaders like Sweden’s 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, are resolved to make their voices heard on the subject.
“People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are at the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you.”
– Greta Thunberg, UN Climate Change Summit