Hundreds of Aspen-area students skipped classes on Friday to protest national leaders’ lack of attention to climate change and to urge local governments to declare a state of emergency concerning the planet’s environmental future.
Marching from the Aspen School District campus off Maroon Creek Road, the youths carried signs with slogans like “The world is in crisis” and “100 percent renewable is 100 percent doable” on their way to Paepcke Park, and eventually, Aspen City Hall, to meet with Mayor Torre. Most were students from the Aspen School District and Aspen Country Day School, but other Roaring Fork Valley students also were said to be participating.
“Strike! Strike!” they shouted while crossing Monarch Street in Aspen. “When I say climate, you say strike,” one of the student leaders prompted. “Climate, strike, climate, strike!” they responded in unison.
“No more coal, no more oil, we’ve got carbon in our soil,” they sang while moving quickly along the Main Street sidewalks as pedestrians cheered and motorists honked their horns.
Organizers of the local participation in Friday’s internationally organized Global Climate Strike event attended a meeting of Pitkin County commissioners on Sept. 11 to ask them to pass a resolution declaring a climate state of emergency that’s similar to one approved Aug. 27 by the Basalt Town Council. Commissioners are expected to consider a resolution next week, on Wednesday afternoon.
The students want the Aspen City Council to follow suit. They also are asking that both elected entities formally express support for U.S. House Resolution 763, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. This bill, which was referred in January to the House Subcommittee on Energy, seeks to impose a fee on the carbon content of fuels, including crude oil, natural gas, coal “or any other product derived from those fuels that will be used so as to emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere,” according to a summary on Congress.gov.
At Conner Park near city hall, three hours after the students began assembling at the public schools campus, Torre addressed the spirited throng.
“I agree with some of the [previous] speakers, the question is, ‘Why has it come to this?’ We could be marching for a lot of other great causes, why are we worried about our own earth? It’s a shame,” he said.
Torre told the youths that he would bring up the need for a city resolution on climate change soon. He also said the council already has gone on record supporting HR 763.
“We’re here at city hall because what you’re asking for is action, some change in policy,” he said, later adding that any resolution on climate change would not be a “hollow,” symbolic action — there will be “teeth” to it.
Councilman Ward Hauenstein also spoke. He said he was in Washington, D.C., last week, and heard Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old environmental activist from Sweden who was the force behind Friday’s global strike, speak at a pro-environment rally.
“She walked right by me and I felt her vibe,” Hauenstein said. “There’s an energy behind that young lady. She has a force and you’re exhibiting it. You guys have more energy than [was displayed] at the rally a week ago today in Washington.”
Tulles Burrows, a senior at Aspen High who spoke to the crowd at Paepcke Park, said he expected a big turnout because there were multiple organizing committees.
“The march was great. We went a little too fast coming into town,” he said. “Motorists were honking, but it was mostly in support. It was all positive.”
He said the point of the strike was to bring attention to a problem that many adult leaders have ignored.
“We’re trying to convey the consequences of inaction,” Burrows said. “We want to establish a countywide and citywide emergency on climate change. We’re also trying to build support for a Green New Deal. We need radical change.”