Millions of people around the world came together in more than 150 countries for youth-led climate strikes Friday, Sept. 20, including residents of Carlton County and the Fond du Lac Reservation.
The nearest climate strike took place outside Duluth City Hall with more people of all ages in attendance. The parents of four Carlton High School juniors willfully called their students out of school for the day to attend the strike and join others.
Junior Haley Adkins, who’s not old enough to vote, said attending the strike was a way for her to fight for her future, her generation’s future and her generation’s children. She’s also fighting for every species that doesn’t have a voice.
“It's not just humans we're fighting for,” Adkins said. “The Amazon rainforest, animals and other species are already being affected and this has been their home for a lot longer than we've been here. So it's important to fight for them, too.”
Her classmate, Johnette Ostlund, called attention to the hypocrisy she feels exists between the way humanity thinks of itself and the way many societies engage with the environment.
“I just think it's kind of funny that we're considered the most intelligent species on Earth, yet we're killing our only home,” Ostlund said.
The global strikes served as a prelude to the United Nations Climate Change Summit on Monday, Sept. 23, in New York City. Greta Thunberg, 16, is the inspiration behind the growing movement of young people.
Thunberg, an environmental activist from Sweden, started a movement called "Fridays for Future" more than a year ago, in which she skipped school every Friday to protest against the government’s lack of climate action.
Carlton junior Annabeth Johnson attended the strike because, like Thunberg, she wants to see people in power making climate action a top priority and taking more steps to protect the environment. She expressed a sentiment common among young people rallying for climate action.
“A lot of these people in the government, a lot of them are older,” Johnson said. “They might not fully experience all the effects, where we're just beginning our lives, basically. Our kids and our grandkids, they'll be directly affected by it.”
For Annika Johnson, rallying for climate action means fighting for world that is clean and healthy.
“I want to live in a world where I don't have to wear a mask, so I can breathe,” Johnson said. “I love the natural beauty and for it to just be destroyed every day more and more it kind of breaks my soul a little.”
All four of the Carlton High School students participate in a program in their school called Youth Eco Solutions in which students identify problems and solutions to modern ecological challenges.
Taysha Martineau, a resident of the Fond du Lac Indian Reservation, was one of many to speak at the strike.
Martineau, who helps run Gitchigumi Scouts in Duluth, which patrols and searches for missing and murdered indigenous women and relatives, spoke about a link between the MMIWR epidemic and the climate crisis.
That link, Martineau said, is the extractive energy industry.
While many people refute claims of a connection between extractive industries and sex trafficking, the U.S. Department of State admitted to the link in 2017.
For a long time, Martineau and just a few other people would escort pipeline workers off the Fond du Lac Indian Reservation whenever they could.
“It was really hard because I felt like we had a lack of support and so I kept looking for warriors,” Martineau said to the crowd Sept. 20. “I found a lot of them today when I look into the eyes of our youth and for that I just want to thank each and every one of you for taking the courage and time today to stand for what you believe in because that is powerful.”
Though the climate strike movement is youth-led and has seen growing support just in the past year, not every young person is passionate about the issue nor entirely aware of the climate crisis.
Wrenshall business teacher Ellie Swanson witnessed this firsthand when she invited students to attend the strike with her via a blurb in the school’s morning announcements.
“It ran the whole week,” Swanson said. “I thought it would work since they would get to leave school. Not one student came.”
One of Swanson’s students did eventually approach her saying she’d go, even though she wasn’t sure what it was about. With just one student, Swanson didn’t have enough interest to make the school trip to Duluth.
She interprets the lack of interest and awareness as signs that schools need to teach more on climate science.
When explaining to her administrator, Superintendent Kim Belcastro, that she wanted to take students to the strike, Swanson told Belcastro it could serve as a way for students to learn about the ways in which young people could engage with issues they care about, whether or not they agreed with the strike. She said she would have said the same had any parents expressed concern about her doing so.
While Balcastro was supportive of Swanson, not every school administration was of teachers who wanted to attend the strikes. New York City Public School’s Education Department, for example, asked teachers not to attend, ruling that participation from employees would violate a “politically neutral learning environment.”