CAPITOL -- Speaking before hundreds of young climate change activists Friday in Albany, University at Albany student Mehr Sharma confessed she didn’t know if she wanted to ever have kids.
“Because I don’t know if it’s a morally right thing to do anymore,” she said. “Because I don’t know if this planet is going to be there for them.”
Sharma, facing the Capitol, said she and her fellow youth activists didn’t come to Albany to debate the facts of climate change; there is no more debate, she said. That the use of carbon-based energy was causing massive change to the planet was a “non-debatable, scientific, empirical fact,” she said. Instead the students and supporters of all ages gathered at West Capitol Park, as millions around the world rallied in similar ways, to demand immediate action to curb fossil fuels and propel renewable energy sources and economy-wide decarbonization.
Students from UAlbany, Union College, the College of Saint Rose, Skidmore, Siena and K-12 schools around the region joined the rally. They carried signs with pithy messages: “Compost the rich.” “You can’t drink oil or breathe money.” “As the oceans rise, so will we.” They sang and chanted and for five minutes, marking a string of worldwide hottest years on record, they lay in silence on the park’s pavement.
Kira Wilson and Carlos Piedad, Union College seniors and leaders of sustainability advocacy group U Sustain, joined a group of over two dozen other Union students at the Albany rally.
“We wanted to represent Union, we wanted to be here, we wanted to skip class to be here,” Piedad said.
They said in recent years students have pushed Union to increase its recycling and composting and improving its overall sustainability. But those improvements pale in comparison to the challenges of climate change. What’s the point of going to school, in some cases paying over $50,000 a year to do so, if the planet is undergoing irreparable harm? the students asked.
“If people do their homework, we will do ours,” Wilson said, echoing the calls of other students.
Standing amid the larger rally in the minutes before speakers railed against corporate power, legislative inaction and widespread public apathy, the Union students said that the importance of climate change dwarfs so much else, it represents an existential crisis for young generations.
“Look at these first-graders,” Piedad said as a pair of kids walked past. “They are asking for a future.”
Audrea Din, a recent Schalmont graduate and UAlbany student, who organized a similar student climate protest in the spring, helped organize Friday’s rally. Like the earlier march, Friday marked a day of global climate protests organized by youth activists around the world.
A group led by adult activists marched throughout Albany on Friday prior to the student rally, arguing for a stop to fossil fuel infrastructure development and an aggressive expansion of renewable energy sources. The marchers stopped at various state offices before joining the student rally in West Capitol Park. The adults ceded the platform willingly to the students.
The student speakers – the oldest in their early-20s – reflected on their emerging activism, often propelled by a feeling that so little was being done to address such a major issue, and argued youth leadership was key to addressing the problems.
“If there is something so disastrous it threatened humanity’s existence, why was nothing being done?” Din remembered thinking as a middle school student beginning to understand what climate change meant.
The speakers highlighted the disparate impacts climate change has already started to have on indigenous and minority communities. In signs and chants, the protesters invoked a recent hurricane that devastated the Bahamas and the burning rainforests in Brazil. They pointed out that many of the places around the world hardest hit by recent natural disasters were those that contributed the least to global carbon emissions.
College of Saint Rose student Isabelle Rulison spoke alongside Juliana Castarillon, an international student from Colombia. Rulison said young activists would take their political revenge on politicians who refuse to address climate change. But she also highlighted the broader world impact.
“We need to vote not just for ourselves but for the well being of other people,” Rulison.
Castarillon said Americans shouldn’t lose sight of the role their decisions have on the lives of people around the world.
“You have more power than you think you do,” she said.
“Many of us are simply striking because we want to have a habitable earth to live the rest of our lives,” Albany High School senior Natalie Penna said. “Crazy, right?”