On March 15 droves of students around the world walked out of school to protest politicians’ inaction on climate change, with approximately one million people participating in the strikes, according to organizers. From Sydney to Stockholm, students had planned more than 1,600 school strikes in over 100 countries, inspired by the weekly Friday climate protests of Swedish student Greta Thunberg.
And in New Orleans, Louisiana, a small but resolute group of students and supporters gathered a few blocks from Lusher Middle and High School, on St. Charles Avenue, one of the city’s most famous thoroughfares, to confront their state’s heightened urgency to stop climate change or face losing the land they are standing on.
The handful of students, in a group of about 20 in all, ranged from pre-Kindergarten to college.
Berelian Karimian, a 14-year-old ninth grader who attends Lusher, felt compelled to follow Greta Thunberg and set up the strike in New Orleans. She was joined by fellow Lusher student, Hector Alda, 15. Despite the low turnout, they were energized by the protest.
New Orleans student Hector Alda, 15, is concerned that humans have very little time to decrease our emissions, which, he said, “is a very big problem for our present and our future.”
Though only two from Lusher turned up, neither was disappointed that others from their school didn’t join in. Their classmates have exams this week, and the principal wasn’t on board with students walking out.
“I hope this raises awareness,” Karimian said. “I wouldn’t be anywhere else.”
Those who did gather were painfully aware of the state’s ever-present juxtaposition: Its long reliance on the fossil fuel industry and its vulnerable position in the crosshairs of climate change.
Group gathered on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans to call for climate action on March 15.
Battered by storms, historic flooding, heat waves, and sea level rise coupled with coastal erosion worsened by global warming, Louisiana students at this point are familiar with the impacts of climate change on a personal level. For example, New Orleanians live with the threat of forced evacuation during hurricane season. Meanwhile, their various politicians have spouted climate science denial talking points, embraced the 2015 Paris climate agreement, and embraced the expansion of the oil, gas, and petrochemical industries in Louisiana.
Group joins high school students from Lusher who organized a school strike in New Orleans.
Miranda Webb, sixth-grader at Morris Jeff School in New Orleans, skipped a field trip to a video arcade to join the school strike. “We don’t really have another planet to go to. We don’t have a plan B,” Webb said. “We have to stop climate change now or it’s going to get terrible.”
Elsewhere in the U.S., students in places such as a snowy St. Paul, Minnesota, and spring-like New York City marched out of their classrooms in solidarity, sharing a variety of urgent, and at times clever, messages calling for action on climate.
Across the country, a group of students gathered outside of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office in San Francisco, where one student described her terror in learning about the seriousness of climate change and her journey from hopelessness to empowerment that brought her there today.
“This strike is to help stop climate change from turning into something disastrous – it’s not too late turn back,” 14-year-old Angelika S. from Oakland, California, told the Guardian. “We’re asking for renewable energy and to stop using fossil fuels for daily needs.”
To the north in Canada, 150,000 students, according to Greenpeace, were striking for the climate today in Montreal, Quebec, with tens of thousands more across the province. As in New Orleans, not all students’ schools endorsed the actions, with some potentially facing disciplinary action as a result of skipping classes to protest.
Catherine McKenna, Canada’s environment minister, voiced support for the marches on social media.
To the south, Santiago, Chile, had a solid turnout of students striking, with calls to “protect from our own destruction.”
Chase O’Halloran, a Loyola college student, worries about the lack of urgency of New Orleans residents toward climate change. “Regardless of what we are working for whether it be a career or a degree, or high school, none of that exists without climate,” he said. He wonders what it is going to take for people to put two and two together and realize the threat of climate change is universal.
A streetcar passes the New Orleans Friday climate strike on St. Charles Avenue.
The strikes got underway first in Australia and New Zealand, with thousands of students leaving their classrooms in Wellington, Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane. Hundreds of students also went on strike in Delhi, Tokyo, and the Philippines.
“If we don’t do something, it’ll be our lives affected, not the 60-year-old politicians,” one Sydney student told Reuters.
Students also protested on the tiny island of Vanuatu, holding signs reading “raise your voice, not the sea level!” Vanuatu is expected to be one of the first islands to disappear due to rising sea levels as a consequence of climate change.
In New Orleans, Austin Alward and his daughter Iris, who is almost 4, supported the student-led climate strike on March 15. Alward learned to teach others about climate change from Al Gore’s Climate Reality project after Hurricane Katrina and plans on becoming more active in raising alarm over climate change.
Later, in London, thousands of schoolchildren gathered in front of Parliament.
The demonstration got off to an awkward start with police attempting to remove the strikers’ sound system, which they said needed written permission that the organizers had not obtained. But that did not deter many that had traveled into central London, determined to have their voices heard.
Anna Taylor, a student organizer with the UK Student Climate Network, stood behind a statue of Winston Churchill and told the gathered crowds:
“We are striking because this is our future, and they are failing to protect people dying every day as a result of climate change across the world.”
“We are standing here because we will not watch them sit and talk and talk any longer with no action.”
“If they don’t act, then we will act for them.”
In Lancashire, three students delivered an open letter, published by DeSmog UK, to the County Council demanding they take the climate crisis seriously. Lancashire is the only area in the UK currently undergoing fracking for shale gas extraction.
There were also major events across Europe, with thousands turning out in Madrid, Barcelona, and Berlin. In France, students blocked the entrance to the headquarters of the bank Société Générale, the Guardian reported.
Hundreds of kids gathered in Stockholm’s central square, chanting “Greta, Greta, Greta” when Greta Thunberg, the 16 year old schoolgirl who inspired today’s global action, joined them.
“We are facing the greatest existential crisis humanity has ever faced. And yet it has been ignored. You who have ignored it know who you are.”
Julian L'heureau, a member of the Socialist Equality Party, protesting with the student-led strike in New Orleans, whose organizer was inspired by Greta Thunberg.
Demonstrations were also planned in East Africa — in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania.
Isaac Oindo, from NGO Power Shift Africa, told DeSmog:
“Some people think climate change is only a future problem but here in Africa we know that it is happening now. We're living through it. However we know that it is going to affect the next generation even more severely which is why it's no surprise to see school children here in Africa and around the world going on strike to demand action.”
“When you're too young to vote, and yet the actions of adults is harming your future, what other means of protest do you have? It's vital that leaders hear the call of the youth, but more than just hear, they need to act.”
And students in Ghana and South Africa joined the global school walk-out and climate rally.
350GHANA (@350GHANA) March 15, 2019
But in a stark reminder of the different contexts in which the schoolchildren across the world find themselves, the Kenyan strikes did not appear to go ahead after a University of Nairobi student was shot the night before in an unrelated incident, dampening enthusiasm for today’s planned action.
And in Uganda, the government did not give permission to the initial plan for a march starting in Constitutional Square in capital city Kampala. The climate strike went ahead in an alternative location, thanks to efforts by student leader Leah Namugerwa.
Abby Kuhe and Andrea Nasca, both parents who live in New Orleans, at the climate strike. Their kids opted not to come due to other commitments, but both parents were compelled to lend their support to the youth strikes in all the other cities across the globe.
Main image: Berelian Karimian, leader of the New Orleans student strike, speaking to a local TV reporter. Credit: All photos by Julie Dermansky for DeSmog