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.”
“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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”