Students cited the fires in the Amazon, water shortages in Gaza and elsewhere and environmental racism as part of their inheritance from previous generations.

Evanston news delivered free to your inbox! 

                                                 Montage from Rachel Rosner

The passion for saving the Earth from the ravages of climate change that fueled demonstrations across the globe on Sept. 20 brought people of all ages to Fountain Square. Among them were many Evanston Township High School students who had skipped their ninth-period classes to speak their minds, demanding, among other things, “that there still be a world out there for us when we leave high school.”

The climate strike in Evanston that drew 400 people was one of hundreds taking place across the globe, involving, by some estimates, 4 million people demanding clear and forceful action to combat climate change. The Friday strikes called attention to the United Nations Climate Summit, which was to begin the following week in New York City.  

Eleven years is the miniscule window of opportunity before the tipping point to climate disaster for the planet, said many of the strikers here and elsewhere.

Speakers urged political, social and personal action to help avert the looming destruction. Several noted that members of the League of Women Voters of Evanston were on hand to register people to vote and urged teens who would be old enough to vote in the 2020 elections to register immediately.

State Representative Robyn Gabel said, “We need not a Green New Deal but a Green Now Deal to put Illinois on the path to 100% renewable energy. We need to create jobs, create a clean community. The cheapest electricity is the electricity we don’t use. Many people think the problem is too big to handle – leave it to the politicians in D.C. But call the Governor and tell him the Clean Energy Future can’t wait. Climate change won’t wait.”

She added, “The youth movement won’t go away.”

Cameron Davis, a member of the Board of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, said, “Push your parents, your friends and neighbors on this. The lake is as high as it is because of climate change.”

Audience members, in the first of several responsive chants, yelled back, “We can’t wait.”

Lifelong Evanston resident Rachel Rosner, who organized the Evanston climate strike said, “Fire, floods, heat and cold are overwhelming. The Amazon is still on fire. In Evanston we’re having more cold days and more hot days… looking for environmental justice on the local level … on the global level we know that the people who are causing this problem are not the ones who are bearing the brunt. … If we can fight for civil rights, if the Berlin Wall can come down, we can do this, too.”

Students Speak

Bella Hubbard said, “Our schools failed to teach us about the issue that is going to impact our lives the most. We demand that Evanston’s school districts teach us about the climate crisis, and show us that they care about our futures by transitioning to renewable energy. “If you leave here and don’t change, and don’t do anything, you will be choosing to be a part of the problem. You will have to tell your kids, or grandkids, ‘Yes, I had the chance to fight to save your future, and I didn’t.’ I know that every single one of you has something to contribute to this movement. E-town can and must lead the way.”

Aldric Martinez-Olson, a member of the climate action team, said, “Why now, when timing is so crucial, when we only have 11 years before disaster is inevitable, when the globe’s carbon level must hit its peak in 16 months to keep our planet safe. Why now, when black, brown, and low-income communities are losing their food, homes, and lives to ever-intensifying droughts and hurricanes? Why now, when students like me are contemplating whether or not they want to raise kids in a climate-threatened world? Why do they get to deny it? People in higher power can afford to pretend like climate change is not happening. But you know who can’t? Every single one of us at this rally today. We are running out of time.

“We need to think about what kind of world we want to live in. Do we want a world where the government is out of touch with its people, people who are dying because of their leaders’ inaction? A world that stumbles through an uncertain climate future, turning a blind eye to our problems? A world that realizes it’s an issue when it’s too late to fix it?

“Or do we want a world where the government understands the rights of its people and the importance of the environment, a government that sets clear action and sticks to it, a government that protects and supports black, brown and poor communities who are disproportionately affected by climate disasters?”

He urged his peers and others to register to vote and asked the crowd, “What do we do if under attack?”

The response: “Stand up, fight back.”

Callie Stollar said, “I’m here today because there’s a threat to our climate and our water. Our planet is dying, and the adults are actually making it worse.”

She mentioned the pollution of Lake Superior in the boundary waters of the U.S. and Canada and said, “Yes, we are young, and no, we don’t know everything. But what I do know is it’s past time we did something about climate change, and the current administration is standing in the way. We’ve been forced to grow up fast. We have been forced to take responsibility for the generation before us. We have been forced to take action, to use our voices, and it’s about time the adults listened.”

Callie also spoke at the Sept. 23 District 65 School Board meeting, requesting that the new superintendent integrate climate change into the curriculum.

She said, “I was never taught about the threat of climate change. Children’s lives are at risk, and they don’t even have the privilege of learning about it. We cannot give up. This is our home.”

Students noted the black and brown communities are most affected by climate change, citing the lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans and sub-Saharan Africa as examples.

On Sept. 25, several news media reported that the water supply in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, had been shut down, leaving more than one million people without water in a country that is suffering from a months-long drought.

Other student speakers brought the climate crisis home to Evanston. Drew Patterson said, “We’re here today because today we must change. The world is currently burning up around us.” He said ETHS must have 100% clean and renewable energy, otherwise, “we simply are standing and watching our home burn.”

He demanded “that there still be a world for us when we leave high school.”

Another student linked the presence of the waste transfer station, 1711 Church St., to environmental racism and said, “We must unite for racial and economic justice, especially in Evanston’s Second and Fifth Wards.”

Noting that the students had put their concerns into action that day, one said, “We cannot sit back and wait for our government to do something, when they are the puppets of [big corporations] … every single one of you is capable of creating the change. We skipped our ninth-period classes because we’re scared the world is going to end.”

                                                          ETHS students led the protest

Mia Houseworth and Sarika Waikar, members of the committee that planned the Climate Strike, spoke alternately about everyday actions that affect the planet.

Sarika said, “We as human beings don’t necessarily seek out ways to hurt the climate, but every day we are presented with challenges in which we must make conscious decisions to do our climate justice.”

Mia said, “Yes, it’s the large corporations that are primarily at fault. But, does that lift the weight off our shoulders? Does that mean we as citizens aren’t perpetuating climate change, simply because we aren’t powerful owners of mass businesses? No, it doesn’t. And we must not forget our distinct role in climate change.”

Sarika added, “And this culture of pointing fingers must change, because for ultimate climate justice, we need unity. Evanston must lead the way in showing a true care for the environment, because we as a community speak volumes.”

Sarika and Mia then read a skit about how the impact of one person’s routine choices such as leaving lights on, wasting food, using non-recyclable cups (“It’s just one cup”) multiplies when billions of people do the same thing.

The older generations gathered at Fountain Square welcomed the young faces and passionate speeches of the students. State Representative Robyn Gabel said, “The youth movement is not going away.” Photo by Andrew Fisher

Adults Weigh In

ETHS alum and teacher Joey Feinstein said, “It is criminal that climate change is not integrated into every curriculum.”

A “rhymer,” he looked at the crowd and extemporized,

“As far as I can see

“There is absolutely no plan b.

“It’s up to the youth

“To tell the truth.”

School Board members Stephanie Teterycz (ETHS) and Rebeca Mendoza (District 65) attended the strike.

Ms. Mendoza said, “This is our future … The oceans are rising, and so are we.”

Ms. Teterycz told the RoundTable, “It was amazing to see so many young, smart student activists – around the world and here in Evanston – all mobilizing to save the planet on a single day! I came away feeling inspired by our students’ passion, their creativity, their intellect – and how each and every one of them spoke in such a compelling way about the environment and environmental justice. It was clear that the organizers made it a priority to create a platform that was inclusive, one that reflects the power and diversity of our student body. That was a wonderful thing to see.”

11 Years?

The 73rd high-level meeting on climate and sustainable development, held last March by the United Nations General Assembly, focused on “protecting the climate for future generations in the context of the economic, social and environmental dimensions of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

The meeting report highlighted points made by several speakers (all quotes from the meeting notes on the United Nations website):

• “We are the last generation that can prevent irreparable damage to our planet, General Assembly President María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés (Ecuador) warned the gathering in her opening remarks, stressing that 11 years are all that remain to avert catastrophe. … Climate justice is intergenerational justice, she said, calling on States to act collectively and responsibly.

• Pointing to intensified calls by youth leaders for action on climate change, she said that 2019 must be a year of climate action at all levels. … To achieve these goals, people worldwide must change their patterns of consumption, she said, noting that, every year, 1.3 billion tons of food are wasted as some 2 billion people suffer of hunger and malnutrition.

• “Further echoing the global youth’s call to action was United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, who said young people are demanding that today’s leaders act on behalf of future generations. … He announced the convening of a climate action summit, calling on leaders to meet in New York on 23 September with concrete, realistic plans to enhance nationally determined contributions by 2020.”

In an op-ed piece in the New York Times the day before the strikes, Gernot Wagner and Constantine Samaras, academics whose work focuses on climate change, analyzed the origin of that number – which was 12 years last fall – and said, “This is just the latest dire warning about time running out issued over the past 20 years. But this deadline is different – it’s both entirely wrong, and oh so right.”

The 11-year window of time came from the special report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, compiled by a United Nations group of climate scientists from around the world.

The report, Drs. Wagner and Samaras wrote, “said that if the planet’s governments want to limit global warming to 2.7° Fahrenheit (1.5° Celsius) above preindustrial temperatures, a mere 1° Fahrenheit above today’s levels, society will have to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by about half by 2030, declining further to net zero by around midcentury. The ‘about’ and ‘around’ typically get dropped in translation, rendering the outcome falsely precise, especially in headlines about the report. … Now, of course, it would be 11 years.”

The deadline is wrong because it is so precise; the world will not end in 2030 if carbon emissions do not decline sufficiently. They quoted science writer and NASA researcher Kate Marvel, who wrote in a Dec. 25, 2018, blog at “Climate change isn’t a cliff we fall off, but a slope we slide down.”

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...