‘We won’t stop striking’: The New York 13-year-old taking a stand over climate change

This
story
was originally published by the Guardian and is reproduced
here as part of the Climate
Desk
collaboration.

Alexandria Villasenor looks a slightly incongruous figure to
stage a lengthy protest over the perils of catastrophic global
warming. The 13-year-old, wrapped in a coat and a woolen hat, has
spent every Friday since December seated on a frigid bench outside
the United Nations headquarters in New York City with signs warning
of climate change’s dire consequences.

Most passersby, probably hardened to confronting New York street
scenes, scurry past, eyes diverted downwards. But some mutter words
of support, while the odd passing driver rolls down their window to
offer a thumbs up.

There is media interest, too. On a recent Friday protest stint,
a microphone was being pinned to a shivering Villasenor by an NBC
crew. “I stayed out there for four hours and I lost circulation
in my toes for the first time,” she said afterwards.

Cold weather in winter is routinely used by President Donald
Trump to disparage climate science — in January, the president
tweeted:
“Wouldn’t be bad to have a little of that good old fashioned
Global Warming right now!” — but Villasenor has experienced
enough in her nascent years to grasp the scale of the threat.

Be careful and try staying in your house.
Large parts of the Country are suffering from tremendous amounts of
snow and near record setting cold. Amazing how big this system is.
Wouldn’t be bad to have a little of that good old fashioned
Global Warming right now!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)
January 20, 2019

Her concern has driven her to help organize the first nationwide
strikes by U.S. school students over climate change, on March 15.
More than 100,000 young people are expected to skip school on the
day and attend rallies demanding radical cuts in greenhouse gas
emissions.

Villasenor was born and raised in Davis, California, in the
teeth of the state’s fiercest drought in
at least 1,200 years
. She recalls seeing the dead and dying
fish on the shores of nearby Folsom Lake as it dried up. In
November, Davis was shrouded in a pall of smoke from record
wildfires that
obliterated the town of Paradise
, 100 miles to the north.

“I have asthma so it was a very scary experience for me, I
couldn’t leave my house at all,” Villasenor said. “Just
walking to the car would make my eyes sting. We rolled up towels
and put them under the windows. A lot of my friends were going out
in the smog and I was texting them to see if they were OK, as I’m
the mom of the group.”

Villasenor’s family subsequently moved to New York, the switch
hastened by concerns over her health due to the smoke. The young
student then swiftly became an activist after reading how warming
temperatures are making the
western U.S. far more prone
to the sort of huge wildfires that
menaced her hometown.

After bouncing around a few youth-led climate groups, Villasenor
struck up a rapport with fellow students Isra Hirsi, in Minnesota,
and Haven Coleman, from Colorado. The trio set about creating
Youth Climate
Strike U.S.
, the first major American response to the recent
mass school
walkouts
by European students frustrated by adults’ sluggish
response to climate change.

“My generation knows that climate change will be the biggest
problem we’ll have to face,” Villasenor said. “It’s
upsetting that my generation has to push these leaders to take
action. We aren’t going to stop striking until some more laws are
passed.”

The American students preparing to join a global
wave of school strikes on March 15
have been spurred by the
actions of Greta Thunberg, a 15-year-old Swede who started taking
every Friday off school to call for more rapid action by her
country’s leaders.

In a gently excoriating speech, Thunberg told governments at
U.N. climate talks in December that “You say you love your
children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in
front of their very eyes.”

Those under 20 years old have never known a world where the
climate isn’t rapidly heating, ensuring that their lifetimes will
be spent in average temperatures never before experienced by
humans.

For someone getting their first taste of politics it can be hard
to digest that precious little has been done to avert a future of
disastrous droughts, floods, and storms since James Hansen, then of
NASA, delivered his
landmark warning on climate change to Congress 30 years
ago
.

“It was confusing at first because I expected politicians to
be on to this, given what the scientists were saying,” said
Chelsea Li, a 17-year-old at Nathan Hale high school in Seattle and
local strike organizer. “But I didn’t see any action. We are
going to have to do the things the adults are too afraid to do
because it’s our futures we are fighting for.”

The American strikers’ challenge appears particularly steep.
It’s one thing protesting in the U.K., where carbon dioxide
emissions have
plummeted
to levels not seen since Queen Victoria’s reign, or
Germany, where the government has pledged to phase out all coal use
within 20 years.

It’s quite another to appeal to Trump, who has called climate
science an elaborate Chinese hoax and has overseen the dismantling
of Obama-era efforts to reduce emissions from coal plants and
vehicles.

Youth-led groups like the Sunrise Movement and Zero Hour have
seized the initiative from traditional green groups but have been
met with the same unyielding political establishment. In
videoed
exchange
since parodied on Saturday Night Live, Senator Dianne
Feinstein, the veteran Democrat, clasped her hands behind her back
and patiently told a group of middle and high schoolers that they
weren’t yet able to vote for her and their demands on climate
were unrealistic.

There was no way to pay for the Green New Deal, a plan to
decarbonize the economy championed by progressives, according to
Feinstein. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years,” she said, an
assurance alluding as much to political inertia as political
experience.

“I think she was trying to dismiss me,” said Isha Clarke, a
16-year-old from Oakland
who had confronted Feinstein
. “I think she was making excuses
for why she didn’t have to listen to us. For older people
there’s no urgency, they are used to the system and
compromising.”

Clarke said the interaction with Feinstein was disappointing but
the backlash was “amazing,” with the California senator
releasing and then dropping her own
climate plan
after it was savaged for being too weak. Feinstein
also offered Clarke an internship, which she has yet to accept.

“It’s sort of tricky because you have to play the game to
change it but I don’t want it to cover up everything that
happened,” Clarke said. “Most young people are very aware of
climate change, a lot of them are super passionate about it but
they don’t have the resources to make their voices heard. They
don’t realize they have the power to create change.”

That voice will be heard on March 15 when students forgo their
classes in order to make a plea that they hope won’t be dismissed
as indulgent truancy. Parents and teachers may have to brace
themselves for future walkouts.

“My parents are very supportive, they understand my
beliefs,” said Villasenor, as she repositioned her placards for
the cameras. “If we’re not going to have a future, then school
won’t matter anymore.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline
‘We won’t stop striking’: The New York 13-year-old taking a
stand over climate change
on Mar 13, 2019.

Source: FS – All – Ecology – News 2
‘We won’t stop striking’: The New York 13-year-old taking a stand over climate change