Sitka High students walked out shortly before lunch on Tuesday. Many made signs for the event. The tone, however, was fairly subdued in the wake of 16-year old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg’s chilling speech to the UN Climate Summit the previous day. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

Sitka High School students emptied out of their building just before lunch on Tuesday (9-24-19) to join the Youth Climate Strike, an event largely driven by students across Europe and North and South America, and Australia. 

Senior Cora Dow was inspired by Greta Thunberg’s dramatic speech to the UN Climate Summit. “They’re saying ‘How Dare You!’ is going to be the next ‘I have a dream,'” she said. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

We are feeling the impacts of climate change more than almost anywhere else on the planet. And most of us as youth will continue to feel the effects for the rest of our lifetimes. Because of our youth, our unique position in this place in this time we have an imperative to act.

That’s Sitka High senior Cora Dow, rallying some 200 of her classmates — and about another 50 adult Sitkans in the back parking lot of the school.

Dow was one of three students who spoke to the crowd, voicing the central message that their generation appears likely to inherit the consequences of climate change.

Senior Max Johnson brought the argument from the abstract to the concrete.

Maybe you don’t care about the murres dying, or the salmon dying, their bodies still full of eggs because the water temperature in their streams has exceeded 80-degrees. But you may care in future years, as it comes out of your paycheck. Heat-related salmon die-offs were predicted decades ago, but I bet you didn’t know that. Long story short, if you think you’re going to be a fisherman when you graduate, you might want to pay attention to your planet now, so your job is still a viable way to make a living in ten years.

Senior Max Johnson is thinking about a career in land management — or maybe becoming a Wildlife Trooper. “I thought I could project a strong voice,” he told KCAW, “and relate to people who are undecided.” (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

Johnson was wearing his Sitka Wolves hoodie. Later, he told me that he wants to be in forest management someday, or maybe be a wildlife trooper. And he already looks the part.

KCAW – Why did you decide to stand up today?

Johnson – I felt like I could project a strong voice, and help persuade my classmates hopefully, since I’ve been here my whole life, and people know me and stuff. I was hoping I could relate to people who are undecided, and don’t know as much about this.

Sophomore Darby Osborne argued that the scale of the threat demanded policy action, rather than a trendy consumer response.

Sophomore Darby Osborne said she channeled 16-year old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg during her speech to the crowd. “We can’t save the planet simply by not using plastic straws,” she told them. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

“Putting pressure solely on consumers  to fix this problem will not have much impact,” said Osborne. “And no, we can’t save the planet simply by not using plastic straws. The best way to do what we want to accomplish is exactly what we are right now.”  She added, “That’s the beauty of our government system: The power lies with the people.”

The idea that the inaction of the present generation to address climate change is stealing opportunity from future generations was hammered home on Monday in New York, when 16-year old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg gave a five-minute speech to the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit.

It was possibly the strongest rebuke ever delivered by a child to the world’s political leaders.

Thunberg at the UN – …I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is the money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!…

Thunberg’s moment in the world spotlight wasn’t lost on Darby Osborne.

KCAW – I’m curious if you saw Greta’s speech at the UN.

Osborne – Indeed I did.

KCAW – How did you react to that?

Osborne – I thought it was amazing. She’s a wonderful speaker. I tried to channel her a little bit in that speech, channeling the empowering and the emotion.

Cora Dow thought Thunberg’s moment was historic.

“People are saying that ‘How dare you’ is going to be the next ‘I have a dream.’”

The Youth Climate Strike was inspired by Thunberg’s protest outside the Swedish parliament last year, and has continued to be a student-led movement. But there were many other Sitkans who turned out for the event at the high school. Ginny Olney was taking her granddaughter’s sign back to the car for her. Olney saw the strike through a completely different lens.

“The planet will survive,” said Olney. “I’m concerned for our kids. Standing up for our kids. It’s a mess, we’re in a mess.”