September 25, 2019

Hundreds Join Worldwide Climate Strike

CLIMATE STRIKE: Led by local university and high school students, more than 500 demonstrators of all ages gathered in Hinds Plaza on Friday afternoon to join the worldwide climate strike, demanding action on the part of local and world government and corporate leaders to combat climate change.

By Donald Gilpin

Led by youth, but including a broad range of ages and backgrounds, a crowd of more than 500 gathered in Hinds Plaza last Friday, September 20, to demand action in response to the climate crisis.

After hearing from about a dozen speakers warning of the consequences of climate change and calling on governments and businesses to take measures to combat it, the spirited throng, chanting and carrying signs, marched up Witherspoon Street and through the Princeton University campus to wrap up the proceedings in front of the Frist Campus Center.

“No more coal, no more oil — keep your carbon in the soil,” they chanted, and “When the air we breathe is under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back.” The wide variety of placards and posters conveyed such messages as “Denial is Not a Policy,” “Science not Silence,” “There is no Planet B,” and “Our Kids Deserve a Future.”

The Princeton demonstration was one of hundreds of climate strike events around the world, with millions of protesters calling for action before the meeting of world leaders in New York this week at the United Nations Climate Action Summit. Led by students, the protests were inspired by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, whose school walkouts have spread around the globe.

“Many people said that it was one of the largest demonstrations that the Princeton community has seen in years,” said Tom Taylor, Princeton University graduate student and one of the strike organizers. “The community, and especially young people, grasp the seriousness of this issue. It is just a question of whether our leaders will get there too.”

Princeton High School junior Nate Howard, one of about 50 PHS participants, called the strike “a massive success,” much larger than a similar strike last spring, and expressed optimism for future action.

“The global strikes have changed minds and have drawn attention to the climate crisis,” he said. “When I got home, I saw the climate crisis finally being talked about on cable news. Continued protests will keep the pressure on politicians. But the engagement we’ve already seen gives me hope. The people are speaking loudly and politicians around the world are starting to listen.”

In his speech to the gathering, Martin Maslak, also a PHS junior and a member of Princeton Student Climate Initiative, emphasized that the reality of climate change is “inescapable,” and criticized “large scale destruction of our environment” by the military, corporations, and the government. “This crisis is their legacy to our generation,” he said. 

Maslak continued, “This is about our survival. This is a matter of life and death. They are failing and betraying us. This is our call to action. This is a call for unity. This is our action to save life on earth.”

Sophia Huellstrunk, also a PHS 11th-grader, noted “there are things that every person can do to make a difference.” She mentioned that she had started biking the 20 minutes to school every day, and added, “Everyone can take steps to help prevent climate change.”

Noting the wide range of participants, Princeton Councilman Tim Quinn commented, “This is wonderful on so many levels — that the students are leading us and the adults are joining them.” He mentioned “the spirit of recognizing that we’re all in this crisis together. We all have to do something.”

Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert noted, “It’s good to see such an enthusiastic crowd and so many young people and people of all ages. It’s such an important issue. Some people are looking at climate change being this abstract global issue, but really the solutions have to be local and people are now more able to make that direct connection to how it’s impacting them.”

Mentioning local work on the Princeton Climate Action Plan and the town’s collaboration with Sustainable Princeton and other community partners, she added, “We all have a responsibility to figure out what we need to do. There’s no magic bullet here.”

Princeton University English Professor Rob Nixon, also a professor in the humanities and the Princeton Environmental Institute, urged the crowd, “We are here today to decarbonize our economy and decarbonize our minds.” He expressed his optimism that environmental justice had become a focal point and that “the movement is being led from below by the people who are most directly affected.”

Emphasizing the importance of the event, Ann McClintock, also a Princeton University professor in English and the Princeton Environmental Institute, told the crowd, “Today, on September 20, 2019, we are witnessing something historical, something monumental that the world has never seen before. We are seeing around the globe demonstrations that take place as people rise up to tell the incompetent, corrupt leaders of the world that the world is on fire and that we won’t wait.”

McClintock described the international strike as “the biggest mobilization against climate emergency ever seen — and you are a part of it.” She emphasized the destructive role of the U.S. military and corporate greed, calling for “a radical new vision” to join communities throughout the world in working to heal the planet.

“The stakes have never been higher,” she concluded. “The forests are on fire. The ice is melting. The oceans rise higher. We are running out of time. We must act now. We have the world in our hands. It quite simply is up to us.”