Hundreds of Aspen students join in Global Climate Strike, march to City Hall
At first, there were about 50 students.
It was 8:30 a.m. A dozen Aspen High School kids had walked out of class Friday morning and toward the middle school. There, they met a few dozen younger teens and their parents, all ready to participate in the Aspen counterpart of the Global Climate Strike.
Most of the students held cardboard or paper signs with statements, including “Vote for the Future,” “We are skipping our lesson to teach you one,” and “If U Don’t Act like Adults We Will” written on them. It was a decent-sized group, and as the clock ticked just past 8:45 a.m. they started to line up for the march into the city of Aspen.
Then the rest of the high school showed up.
Flooding down the hill with signs and shouts, the climate strike quickly tripled in size and energy as freshmen through seniors strode to join the younger students.
“No more coal, no more oil, keep that carbon in the soil!” chanted Tullis Burrows, 17, from a megaphone at the front of the student-led march.
As the horde of teens made their way along the bike path from the Aspen school district campus into the city, Burrows led several more chants, demanding things like a Green New Deal and for people driving by to get out of their cars and march.
“Essentially, we have 10 years to reach a net-zero economy,” Burrows said. “And the implications if we do not is far reaching. … I’ve known (climate change) was a crisis my entire life and have grown up listening to people say for a decade we need to do something about it, but nothing has happened.”
That’s why Burrows and many of his Aspen-Snowmass peers skipped class Friday and marched to Aspen City Hall to demand more local and county action against climate change.
According to Aspen school district officials, 321 students from the high school took part in the march Friday, along with 80 middle school students.
That’s about 16% of the entire middle school and nearly 60% of the high school. The middle school students had to be signed out by their parents to participate. High school students walked out of the building on their own accord and were to be marked with unexcused absences if their parents did not call in to excuse them.
But these 401 Aspen students who skipped school Friday were just a fraction of the thousands of kids in more than 100 countries who took part in Friday’s Global Climate Strike. The international, student-led strike was spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist, and aimed to urge adults to do more to reduce carbon consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
“This is ridiculous. Teenagers striking from school to march and protest against climate change. Why? Because the adults we are supposed to be looking up to and learning from are too scared or busy to stand up for the next generation’s future?” an Aspen teenager shouted from the Paepcke Park gazebo to the strikers gathered below. Several students shouted “Amen” in response.
“To me, it seems like the real world is just like middle school. The popular people such as presidents, corporations and business people try to ignore what is happening to our climate, or worse, treat it like homework, procrastinating and leaving it for later. But I have news for you: We’re running out of time.”
After making a few stops to speak, chant and buy snacks, the Aspen climate strikers made it to Aspen City Hall around 10:30 a.m., where Mayor Torre was waiting for them.
Instead of meeting in the council chambers, as planned, Torre led the strikers to the park behind the city building where they sat and listened to more student speeches, along with responses from Torre and City Councilman Ward Hauenstein.
In their short speeches, students asked city and county government officials to declare a climate emergency; support the federal Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, which encourages a market-driven push toward clean energy by taxing carbon at the point of extraction; ban single-use plastics; and ensure solar and renewable energy is incorporated into all new buildings.
“I’m speechless,” said Mayor Torre after the students spoke behind City Hall. “When I was over in Paepcke Park listening this morning, I was in tears. Your sentiments are heard, I promise you that.”
Torre made a commitment to the climate strikers that he would discuss a climate crisis declaration plan with City Council and the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners that didn’t just make a statement, but laid out stronger, attainable action in line with what the city and county are already doing.
“We’re very conscientious about not just passing something that could be hollow in meaning. We want to do something that’s got some teeth,” Torre said. “The city of Aspen is an amazing organization and place. We’ve done a lot to address climate change, but we could do more.”
The city is approaching its 2020 goal of a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, which Torre said Aspen is close to meeting but falling short of.
Torre emphasized that while government can do more, locals can do their part in helping decrease the city’s carbon footprint, too.
Nearly 60% of Aspen’s carbon footprint stems from residential and transportation habits, Torre said, noting that everyone needs to take action to help meet the city’s 2020 emissions reduction goal and in turn address climate change.
“We all have a shared responsibility. … Be conscientious in your own lives,” Torre said. “That will go a long way.”