Spurred into action by local youths, Pitkin County commissioners agreed at a Tuesday work session to move forward with a resolution declaring a “state of emergency” on climate change.
The resolution will be considered at commissioners’ regular meeting on Sept. 25. Commissioner Greg Poschman said the emergency resolution likely will be discussed and voted on after 2 p.m. to allow students time after school to attend the meeting at the county’s administration building.
Several middle- and high-school youths from the Aspen School District and Aspen Country Day School spoke up at the Board of County Commissioners meeting last Wednesday to urge that Pitkin County follow in the footsteps of the Basalt Town Council in declaring a climate-change state of emergency. Basalt’s leaders passed their resolution on Aug. 27.
“We must politely insist that you take this issue with the utmost seriousness by declaring a climate emergency and then taking action,” said Isabella Poschman, who is the daughter of Greg Poschman. The elder Poschman, who chairs the Board of County Commissioners, said the students are working on their own and that he and other parents are not the force behind their movement.
Meanwhile, local students are planning to participate in an internationally coordinated Global Climate Strike on Friday. They’ll be demonstrating on the Aspen School District campus at 7:40 a.m. before leaving school at 8:45 a.m. on foot or bike for a march to Aspen’s Paepcke Park.
They also are scheduled to meet with Mayor Torre at 10:30 a.m. to urge an Aspen City Council resolution declaring a state of emergency on climate change. At 2 p.m., they’ll gather back at Lower Moore Field on campus for an aerial photograph (to be shot by a drone) in which they’ll attempt to resemble a giant snowflake. Participants are asked to dress in white clothing for the picture.
The Global Climate Strike is being organized by Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old environmental activist from Sweden who last year gained attention when she protested outside of her country’s parliament building, calling for stronger efforts to combat climate change. Since then, her impact on youths and adults worldwide has been described by some media as the “Greta Thunberg effect.”
Elsie Weiss, a freshman at Aspen High School, said the students on Friday will stress the existence of “an immediate crisis affecting our future.” She said though many students plan to strike, it’s her understanding that classes will still be held at the middle and high schools.
“I think we will have a medium amount of participation in the strike,” she said. “We’ve already spoken with the principals and they’re totally supportive of what we are doing.”
Early Friday morning at the school, and on the march to Paepcke Park, students will carry signs with messages like “Our house is burning” and “#climate strike,” Weiss said. One of the goals of the international movement is to reach “adults in power” who aren’t doing enough, she said, adding that there are many other adults who believe climate change is a problem and support the youths’ efforts.
Zala Smalls, an Aspen Middle School eighth-grader, said she and other students are fighting for their futures.
“I feel like if adults aren’t going to do anything we have to take matters into our own hands,” she said.
Smalls said she respects the opinions of those who don’t believe in the reality of climate change, but if she ran into a doubter she would try to persuade them otherwise.
“I would cite some statistics about climate change and try to convince them,” she said.
During Tuesday’s work session, commissioners lauded the efforts of the kids but noted that the resolution is a continuation of the county’s efforts to promote greener practices across the board, such as with building codes and recycling programs.
Commissioner George Newman said it’s become apparent that efforts to combat climate change rest with towns, cities, counties and states because “we can’t rely on the federal government” to take action.
Commissioner Steve Child talked about the wording of the resolution, saying that perhaps it should mirror Basalt’s verbiage in setting a goal “to restore a safe climate.” But the county staff member preparing the resolution, Zach Hendrix Sr., said many resolutions being prepared across the country have mirrored language from the progressive Green New Deal movement, and that staff wanted to take a broader approach.
The proposed resolution, according to a Hendrix memorandum, would place Pitkin County in line with 1,003 other governments around the world that have declared climate emergencies. Thirty-two of those governments are in the United States, “and joining with them will keep Pitkin County in a leadership role for climate preservation.”
In addition, the declaration is necessitated by the current global increase in average temperature of 1 degree Celsius and the projected global average temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2030. “The temperature increases have the potential to spur the intensification of storms, droughts, sea level rise and radical climate shifts, as well as a dramatic alterations in wildlife habitats and agricultural stability,” the memo states.
Poschman likened the climate-change movement to historic “call outs” of support akin to the fight against the Nazis during World War II.
“It’s going to take all of us” to stem the effects of climate change, he said.
In speaking to commissioners last week, students often cited the need for local residents, businesses and officials to work hand-in-hand with the local nonprofit Community Office for Resource Efficiency to make their homes and offices greener and more energy efficient.
Lara Whitley, CORE’s brand and creative strategy director, pointed out that efforts to seek local emergency resolutions on climate change are being driven by students who are members of a group called the Aspen Junior Environmentalists. In other words, the kids aren’t being pushed by adult activists.
“I’ll be there in solidarity with the kids,” Whitley said. “Adults like me are supporting them, but following in the students’ lead.”