Youth Activists Strike for Climate Action at Colorado Capitol

Youth Activists Strike for Climate Action at Colorado Capitol
Chase Woodruff

As lawmakers inside the Colorado Capitol looked forward to the end of the legislative session, youth activists rallied outside to remind them of all the work that's left to be done.

As part of a wave of Youth Climate Strike events held all around the world today, May 3, dozens of young people from Denver and beyond joined environmental activists from groups like the Sunrise Movement and Extinction Rebellion to rally on the Capitol steps for stronger climate action.

"Some say that we should be in school, and that we need an education to thrive in our future," said Haven Coleman, a thirteen-year-old activist who has demonstrated outside the Capitol every Friday for more than four months. "But why work for an education when our future is being torn apart?"

Coleman is a co-founder of US Youth Climate Strike, a coalition of young activists from around the country, and part of a movement inspired by sixteen-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who rose to fame after her speech at a U.N. climate change summit last December went viral. Around the world, organizers say that more than 1.5 million students participated in the last wave of strike events in March.

After rallying outside Friday, Coleman and her fellow activists held an eleven-minute period of silence inside the Capitol — representing the eleven-year window that many advocates for stronger climate policy say is a make-or-break deadline for governments to take decisive action. In order to avoid catastrophic levels of warming, U.N. climate scientists warned last year, the world must cut greenhouse gas emissions nearly in half by 2030, a path that will require "rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes to all aspects of society."

On Wednesday, Colorado lawmakers passed House Bill 1261, which would commit the state to achieving a 50 percent emissions cut by 2030 and require state regulators to implement rules to help achieve that goal. Governor Jared Polis — who reportedly fought to exclude mandates, fines or other enforcement mechanisms from the bill — is expected to sign it into law in the coming days.

"They have definitely taken some steps, and I want to applaud them for that," says Marlow Baines, another of the strike's organizers. "At the same time, we still need to take a radical stance on this issue — on fracking and natural gas extraction, on air quality, on plastic. We need to start talking about these things, and we need to make sure drastic bills are passed so that our citizens are safe."

Even as warnings from scientists have grown more urgent, and warming-intensified disasters like the Camp Fire and Hurricane Maria have devastated the U.S. and countries around the world, global emissions of greenhouse gases have continued to rise. With the world's remaining "carbon budget" rapidly dwindling, climate activists have increasingly called for aggressive measures like the Green New Deal, a proposal for a massive expansion in federal spending to invest in renewable energy and decarbonization.

"The time for incremental change was thirty years ago," says Michele Weindling, an organizer with the Colorado chapter of the Sunrise Movement, which led protests in the halls of Congress last year that helped popularize the Green New Deal. "You either recognize the threat that we face, or you don't — or you refuse to do something about it."

It will take action at the federal level to curb greenhouse gas emissions nationwide, and with the 2020 election looming, Colorado's youth climate activists are keeping a close eye on both the presidential race and Democratic efforts to unseat Senator Cory Gardner. Joined by other activists around the country, they've pressed candidates to sign the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge and support ambitious policies like the Green New Deal.

"Our support matters a lot in elections," says Weindling. "In order to get the youth vote, you have to support the Green New Deal — 80 percent of us support it. It's an aggressive move, but it's practical, because we literally don't have another option."
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Chase Woodruff is a staff writer at Westword interested in climate change, the environment and money in politics.
Contact: Chase Woodruff