Hundreds of children, teenagers and adults in the Triangle left their homes, offices and school campuses Friday to rally in solidarity with climate strikers around the world, determined to forestall increased catastrophes from a warming planet.
Some said they were drawn to the rallies as a demonstration of concern for an issue they’ve been worried about for a long time. Others were newer to the topic, but saw the need for urgent action.
Venus King, a junior at NC Central University, said she missed a math class to be in Raleigh on Friday afternoon. She stood with a group of friends in Halifax Mall at the state government complex.
“I want to have a planet that’s good and clean,” said King, a 19-year-old from Greensboro. “As a young person, it’s on us to determine what our future is going to be like. And if I have to miss class for that, I surely will.”
King said she started learning about climate change in college, where the information “felt like a surprise.”
“That’s why it’s so dope that high schoolers and middle schoolers already know about this stuff and are fighting for it,” she said. “At least they get to be ahead of the game.”
Climate strikes were organized for the week that Greta Thunburg, a 16-year-old Swedish activist, visited Congress. Teenage strikers in Chapel Hill and Raleigh quoted Thunburg in their speeches.
Strikes in cities and towns around the world were held Friday, with events continuing through next week. The United Nations is hosting a Youth Climate Summit in New York on Saturday before a UN Climate Action Summit on Monday.
Hundreds of thousands attended rallies in Australia, The Guardian reported, some of the millions who protested around the world. New York City schools gave its 1.1 million students excused absences to attend the Climate Strike, where Thunberg led the protest, according to The Guardian.
High school and university students attended a morning rally in Chapel Hill, where a few hundred people gathered to hear speeches and music. Sixteen people cycled three and a half hours from the Chapel Hill rally to the Raleigh rally.
Michelle Rouse, a Cary Academy student, recounted for the Raleigh crowd a string of disasters, including a killer typhoon in 2013 that hit the Philippines, the drought in the United Kingdom in 2018, a drought in the Horn of Africa in 2011 that caused “a severe food crisis,” the Australian heat wave in January of this year, fires in the Amazon rain forest, and Hurricane Florence in North Carolina last year.
“Climate change is real. We have to address this as it truly is, a climate crisis,” she said. “The planet is literally on fire, and we all need to do something about it.”
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported last year that the global temperature has increased 1 degree Celsius from pre-industrial levels and urged keeping the total increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit.
Climate change is expected to increase rainfall rates in Atlantic hurricanes, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Rainfall from some of these storms has been measured in feet rather than inches.
An April 2019 survey by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication found that nearly seven in 10 Americans think climate change is happening, while about 63% said they rarely or never talked about it with family or friends. Six in 10 people think global warming is affecting weather in the country, the survey reported.
In a telephone interview, David McLennan, a political science professor at Meredith College, compared the climate strikes to the student-led rallies on gun laws organized after the Parkland shooting last year.
Turning the climate rallies into a sustained effort would be key to getting politicians to pay attention, McLennan said.
“It is showing that young people do have a political streak in them,” he said. “It has shown a political activism that has been energized.”
President Donald Trump announced he would pull the United States out of the Paris climate agreement and his administration is rolling back environmental regulations, the New York Times reported, some of which were aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Duke Energy this week said in a news release that it had a goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The announcement won a mix of praise and criticism. Duke Energy is one of the partners in the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a natural gas pipeline planned to run from West Virginia to North Carolina. Natural gas is mostly methane, a gas more efficient at trapping heat than carbon dioxide.
Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration has proposed a sweeping plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 70% by 2030, The News & Observer has reported. The state Department of Environmental Quality under Cooper has also approved permits critical to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Pipeline construction has been stalled by lawsuits.
Rand Alotaivi, a junior at Duke University who attended the Raleigh rally, said the climate strikes were giving her hope.
“Seeing how many people care about this makes me feel less hopeless,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s going to make a difference, but at least we’re trying.”