BAR HARBOR — “When leaders act like children, our children become the leaders,” read one of the signs at the youth climate strike held last Friday on the Village Green.
Students left school to attend the noontime climate strike, said College of the Atlantic student Ania Wright, one of the organizers of the event. “Transportation was very much a factor,” Wright said. “We encouraged students to walk, bike, or take public transportation in order to limit their impact while participating in the strike.”
Others of all ages attended the climate strike, some requiring walkers, wheelchairs, or baby strollers. About 300 people attended, organizers said.
Elementary and high school students received excused absences from school if they had written permission from their parents to do so, MDI High School Principal Matt Haney told the Islander.
“Students are doing this on their own,” he said. “It’s an international movement spearheaded by teenagers … It’s not a school activity; however, if parents excuse their student, they can go.”
The Blue Hill-based singing group EarthSongs warmed up the crowd with call-and-response songs about the environment.
“At what point are we moved to real action?” State Rep. Brian Hubbell, asked the group.
“From where I sit in the arena of public policy making, I want to report to you, with some confidence, that the moment is right here and right now. Even in the halls of the Statehouse, this moment feels different.”
Featured speakers from the COA student-run organization Earth in Brackets read a list of demands for the U.S. federal government. The first of these is “declare a climate emergency.” Proposed solutions include “breaking free from fossil fuels, investing in renewable energy … and implementing science- and community-based policies.”
They’re hoping to change policy at the local government level, too.
Wright invited those present to write their concerns and suggestions on paper to stuff a box to take to Bar Harbor Town Council. “We are planning on taking our demands, as well as notes written by strike goers, to the Town Council in order to push the conversation on climate action forward in Bar Harbor,” Wright told the Islander on Monday.
Wright herself is taking action on a state level, serving on Governor Janet Mills’ newly formed Maine Climate Council as youth representative. Rep. Hubbell has also been appointed to the 39-member bi-partisan council, which was scheduled to meet for the first time on Thursday.
“I hope to bring as many voices to the table as possible from the youth perspective,” Wright said in a radio interview with Maine Calling on Monday. “There are many different perspectives from all over Maine … and all over the world that I think are important and necessary when we’re talking about these issues.
“And I also recognize that [in] representing my entire generation and generations to come, I hope to act as a constant reminder of the gravity of the situation that we’re in,” she continued. “I want to make sure that people are paying attention to that and pay attention to the youth perspective.”
The council was formed to advise lawmakers on meeting the state’s goal of becoming “a net exporter of energy” by the year 2030, producing more energy than is used from renewable sources.
That goal was articulated in LD 658, a bi-partisan energy bill passed by the Legislature in March. The bill was introduced by Hubbell; he and Wright were both present when Mills signed it into law.
Friday’s climate strike was organized by Earth in Brackets as part of an international youth-led “Global Climate Strike” movement with more than 950 strikes across 150 countries on Sept. 20, according to a press release.
COA Professor Doreen Stabinsky, who advises the group and regularly leads a COA delegation to U.N. climate conventions, told the Islander that the role of adults in the youth climate strike is to offer support, but let the youth lead.
“I’ve been working on climate change for ten years and no matter how many times and many ways scientists have tried to communicate … that message hasn’t gotten through.”
Young people, she said, are bringing more urgency and clarity to the message because they have to live in the world adults leave them with.
“Youth have been able to put forth that message in a way [that involves] not just the science and the logic and the reason; but they move with their hearts as well. The adults in the movement have been so thankful.”
Stabinsky said other scientists she’s been in touch with have all attended youth-led climate strikes as participants, and they largely had the same philosophy when it comes to wording with youth. As Stabinsky describes it, “Let them lead. Do what we can to support them. They have the same message as us, but they have a different message. They’re doing brilliantly.”