Sena Wazer, a 15-year-old from Mansfield who is also a very young first year student at the University of Connecticut, was one of the key organizers of the protest. Kathleen Megan / CT Mirror

Sena Wazer, a 15-year-old from Mansfield, made the case on the need for emergency action on climate change Friday before a crowd of about a thousand youths and adults gathered on the back steps of the Capitol.

“Some politicians will say that small incremental changes are all that is possible, but that time is over,” Wazer said. “Perhaps if we had taken action in the past, we wouldn’t have to take such drastic action now. But we didn’t and now it is a huge weight, hanging over me, my generation and future generations.”

The call for emergency action was heard across Connecticut, the country and around the world Friday as a “Global Climate Strike,” inspired by a 16-year-old Swedish activist, Greta Thunberg, prompted hundreds of thousands of young people and adults to skip school or work to voice their concerns and demands about the climate.

In Hartford, they came carrying signs with slogans such as “There is no Planet B,” “We’re studying for a future that might not exist,” and one with a picture of President Donald Trump that said, “Liar, Liar, Planet on Fire.” They chimed in on chants like “Hey ho, hey ho, fossil fuels have got to go.”

Like Thunberg, who spoke in New York, and many of the young people at the Hartford event, Wazer, who helped organize the rally at the Capitol, developed a passionate commitment to the environment at an early age.

Wazer was only five when she learned of the environmental troubles that beset whales — starting with fishing nets — and moved onto climate change last year when she learned through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of the devastating impact global warming will have if not addressed by 2030.

“[I]n 11 years, I will be 26 and my sister will be 24, and I still want a safe future for us and rest of our generation at that time,” Wazer said. “We will not take no for an answer.”

The Hartford rally was organized by Connecticut Climate Change Mobilization — a statewide coalition of over 80 organizations. Rally leaders hand-delivered a resolution to Gov. Ned Lamont’s office on Friday asking him and the state legislature to declare a “climate emergency” in Hartford and to take a number of steps including calling a special session of the legislature to enact emergency legislation to address the crisis and setting a goal of eliminating all climate pollution statewide by the 2030.

The governor wasn’t in to greet the protesters, but a statement from his spokesman Max Reiss said that “Climate change is an acute and significant threat to our air, water, health and overall quality of life here in Connecticut and across the globe.”

Mitchel Kvedar, a sophomore at Eastern Connecticut State University, helped organized the climate protest at the State Capitol.

“It is irresponsible to push these issues down the road for future generations to tackle and solve,” Reiss said. “That’s why we must act now. Connecticut is leading the charge in charting a path toward a cleaner, healthier community through our commitment to a zero-carbon electric grid by 2040 and to alternative energy sources, like the bipartisan support for offshore wind.”

The protesters clearly felt 2040 isn’t soon enough.

“Frankly 2040 is too late,” said Mitchel Kvedar, another key organizer of the event and an Eastern Connecticut State University sophomore. “We have to take drastic action in order to prevent the worst effects of climate change.”

That call for emergency action was echoed at rallies around the state, the country, in Europe, North and South America, Africa and elsewhere.

“The voices of millions of young people are filling the streets in communities across the globe, demanding that our governments and industries work together to take decisive action to safeguard our environment and ensure a healthy, sustainable world for our children,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said in a statement released Friday. “The climate crisis is the existential threat of our time, impacting every community and every nation on earth.  Tackling this crisis is about protecting public health, advancing a green, forward-looking economy, defending our national security and honoring our responsibility to be good stewards of God’s creation. ”

She said that House Democrats  “stand with you in this urgent fight.  Congress will build on our passage of the Climate Action Now Act, which demands action from the Trump Administration, and continue to advance innovative solutions that create jobs and protect our families.”

Significant timing

The global climate strike comes as the Trump administration has recently taken what activists, climate scientists and others view as its most treacherous rollbacks of regulations that had been designed to lower greenhouse gas emissions. Chief among them is action announced Thursday — but anticipated since Trump took office — to prevent California from setting its own stricter emissions standards for motor vehicles. The state has been regulating such emissions since before the Clean Air Act existed. When the act was passed, it provided for California to seek waivers for more restrictive emissions – often referred to as the California waiver – and other states were allowed to use the California levels. Connecticut is among about a dozen states that do so.

Revocation of the waiver — which has never been attempted — would not only have an impact on emission levels, but it would also eliminate an electric vehicle program known as the Zero Emission Vehicle or ZEV Mandate, also designed to help lower emissions. Connecticut also participates in that. Together those changes could have a profound impact on the state’s air quality, which often does not meet federal standards, as well as on emissions nationwide.  Motor vehicle emissions now contribute more greenhouse gases than any other sector in the U.S.

The Trump administration is also attempting to rollback the stricter mileage standards set by the Obama administration. That rollback effort has faced considerable pushback — including from automakers.

Connecticut has joined other states fighting in court many of the Trump environmental rollbacks. On Friday, Attorney General Tong announced that he had joined a coalition of 24 attorneys general in a lawsuit to fight the California Waiver rollback.

Richard Blumenthal, D-CT, along with about a half dozen state legislators, watched the protest in Hartford supportively from the sidelines. It was the people who had the podium at this event — not politicians  — but Blumenthal said he supports the call for the state to take emergency action on climate.

Many children, large and small, took part in the climate strike at the Capitol Friday. Kathleen Megan / CT Mirror

Blumenthal said the country is “on the cusp of the biggest rollback [in environmental regulation] in the history of the United States.”

“There’s a reason that a 15-year-old led this event, which is that young people care so deeply and so passionately about this issue because they are going to inherit the planet that we are ruining,” Blumenthal said. “I suggest they ought to march on Washington as was done right after the inaugural to show my colleagues that people care passionately and deeply and they are not going away.”

In whose hands, the future?

Among those at the rally were about 120 students from the Loomis Chaffee School in Windsor, including Emma Keane, a senior at the private high school.

“I think it’s very frustrating that I now have to consider the ethics of starting a family — that my future is getting taken out of my hands,” she said. “I refuse to let my future get taken out of my hands by people who don’t care about the planet that we have that we’re destroying.”

From left, Emma Keane, Neala Sweeney, and Emma Tishler, all seniors at the Loomis Chaffee School, voiced their support for emergency action on climate change. Kathleen Megan / CT Mirror

Her friend, Neala Sweeney, also a senior, added, “I think it’s extremely important that we recognize that if we don’t do something now, all of this is going to be irreversible.”

“I’m asking you to vote for me, and my generation. I’m asking you to vote for our future.”

She questions whether she would one day want to start a family. “I don’t know if I want my kids to live in a world where they can’t swim in the ocean without wearing a hazmat suit, and that really makes me sad and it’s very disturbing.”

Sanya Bery, a junior at Wesleyan University, said she has memorized the “consequences of climate change as if they were vocab words. I have used them in every essay, exam, or explanation as to why I am majoring in environmental studies and not something I can actually get a job in.”

“Sea level rise. Storms. Cyclones. Droughts. Erosion. Landslides. Flooding. It’s easy to say, just like news is often easy to ignore.”

She said that 20 million people around the world have been forced to abandon their homes because of “such consequences.”

Madeleine Lombard, a UMass freshman from Northampton, attended the rally. She is the producer of a documentary called “Under Pressure” about the gas explosions in Massachusetts last year. Kathleen Megan / CT Mirror
Madeleine Lombard, a UMass freshman from Northampton, attended the rally. She is the producer of a documentary called “Under Pressure” about the gas explosions in Massachusetts last year. Kathleen Megan / CT Mirror

She said it is easy for young people to be deemed too “idealistic, too young, too radical.”

“It is not idealistic to dream of a world where everyone has access to clean air and water. We are not too young to worry about having to abandon our homes because they are underwater. ”

She said the call for emergency action is not an “overreaction” but the result of decades of “under-reaction.”

Wazar left the crowd with a single plea, noting the importance of the upcoming presidential election, urging them to elect a “climate leader.”

“I won’t be old enough to vote in the 2020 election, so I am asking all of you who are old enough to get out there and vote,” Wazer said. “I’m asking you to vote for me, and my generation. I’m asking you to vote for our future.”

CTMirror environmental writer Jan Ellen Spiegel contributed to this report.
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Kathleen Megan wrote for more than three decades for the Hartford Courant, covering education in recent years and winning many regional and national awards. She is now covering education and child welfare issues for the Mirror.

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10 Comments

  1. We’re trapped in a carbon economy, but in order to make our elected leaders listen to us, striking in order to build a mass movement for change is the only way. Taking simple actions at our homes and workplaces is necessary but IT IS NOT ENOUGH. To transform our economy and take it off fossil fuels within 11 years to stop the worst effects of climate change, as sternly warned by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we need BOTH individual actions AND government actions AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. You may not realize it, but you’re parroting fossil fuel executives’ talking points designed to try to blunt our momentum to end their eco-genocide of our entire generation for $$$. It’s humanly impossible to avoid hypocrisy on the path to a 100% clean energy economy. You may have heard the saying “it takes money to make money”? Well, isn’t spending money ‘hypocrisy’ when the goal is to make money? But nobody calls that hypocrisy. Only when the goal is something to protect our children do they cry “hypocrisy”.

    1. Apparently you’re “trapped in a carbon economy” while the rest of us are just benefiting from millennia of human development and civilizations built on the ingenuity of our forebearers and that allowed them to master their environs. The computer that allows you to post your comments is not carbon neutral. Perhaps you should try to escape.

    2. Richard, thank you for your comment. Far too often we see commenters like JSK who parrot what they see on fox “news” and hear from commentators like Limbaugh. Sycophants of the president who refuse to look at the science-based facts and data trends and instead rely on what is driven by the almighty dollar (think coal and oil $$$). I’m interested to see how JSK feels about the president flying to Florida on a regular basis to golf, his motorcade of gas-guzzling SUVs, using his electric, (or gas), golf cart, staying in luxurious air conditioned suites, and wasting tens of millions of American taxpayer monies being spent to house his entourage at his properties. The very definition of hypocrisy, no?

      1. Haha, the “…but, but Obama…” line! Yeah, you’re no parrot! 😉 Why on earth would I live in a tent? Do you think I’m homeless? I live in an energy efficient home and take mass transit to work on a daily basis. I, for one believe fact-based science. Keep you head in the sand, just make sure you do it a bit above the high tide line!

  2. We need major changes at DEEP and in the Governor’s own policy to put our state on a path to preventing the worst effects of climate change. The UN’s IPCC says 2030, not 2040. End the new fracked methane power projects, like the one in Killingly. We don’t need them, the decision to build them was based on a mistake. It’s time to swallow our pride and end those projects. Energy Efficiency programs are cheaper and better anyway- they can produce as much net energy as the fracked gas projects, with lower costs and NEGATIVE emissions.

    1. When it’s record breaking cold – like Denver last winter, we are then lectured that that’s “weather”. When it’s record breaking heat, we’re told that’s “climate”.

      And not one single “prediction” has come true.

  3. Here’s what NPR has to say about how ocean temperatures were measured until the 1940’s:

    “ To know how ocean temperature is changing today, scientists rely on more than a century’s worth of temperature data gathered by sailors who used buckets to gather samples of water.”

    “The underlying problem Chan and Huybers were dealing with is that different countries used buckets made of different materials, in different sizes, on different lengths of rope — all things that could change a temperature reading.“

    So the baseline data against which “climate change” is measured is the equivalent of scooping up some water somewhere and using a mercury thermometer to take it’s temperature. And the earth is mainly water.

    https://www.npr.org/2019/08/19/750778010/how-much-hotter-are-the-oceans-the-answer-begins-with-a-bucket

    Buckets. Rope. Please.

  4. I do not believe in the “climate change”.

    Nor did I believe in the “global warming” that came before it.

  5. Here in CT, the utilities are directing policy. Until we reform our highly profitable, self serving utility companies, converting our energy to renewables drag out slowly. Eversource is blocking everything unless they can own it and control it. And our state agencies are doing their bidding. Lamont would be well served by creating a task force initiating massive utility reform.

    EVERYONE would applaud that.

    All of our issues to converting to renewables are falsely created by the state’s arrangement for guaranteed profits for the utilities. Let go of that old mindset(its very 1950’s) and watch how CT can grow both in terms of economic development, but also in cleaner air, water and lower energy costs.

  6. Oh for goodness sake! Don’t you remember how smart and overwhelmed with wisdom you were when you were 15? I certainly remember how wise I was. Oops!

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