Unsatisfied with the state’s response to climate change, more than 1,000 students from around the state marched Friday on the state Capitol to demand immediate action to confront the problem as part of the global “Youth Climate Strike.”
Students called for eliminating the use of fossil fuels, boosting investment in renewable energy resources and increasing recycling and composting programs at school districts throughout the state.
“We want to be heard by our representatives and by the people who represent us to change policies to better help our planet,” said Veronica Cruz, a senior at Memorial High School. “It’s crazy to think about actually changing the planet, but it’s something we have to do because it’s dying.”
With signs and banners in hand, students from Madison and across the state gathered at East High School in the morning to begin a more than 2-mile march down East Washington Avenue for a rally outside the Capitol.
“We will not sit idly by while the environment is destroyed by the inaction of our leaders,” Max Prestigiacomo, a Middleton High School senior and a walkout organizer, said at the rally. “We have the numbers, we have the courage, and we have the science all on our side.”
After the rally, students went inside the Capitol to chant, protest and dot the hallways and doors with sticky notes bearing messages about their worries and demands related to climate change. In the foyer outside of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’ office, dozens staged a sit-in calling for the Republican leader to listen to them.
Chants of “Let us in” and “We vote next” echoed throughout the Capitol from protesters assembled outside the locked doors of a foyer leading to Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald’s office.
Vos and Fitzgerald did not respond to requests for comment.
Student-led protests and walkouts occurred in more than 100 countries Friday, inspired by a Swedish student who began holding demonstrations outside the Swedish parliament last year.
Siblings Emma and Cole Erickson traveled from Appleton to participate in the walkout.
“Just to see this many kids skipping high school, this really means a lot to them,” said Cole Erickson, who recently graduated from Lawrence University. “This generation of kids, it seems like they understand the real meaning of climate change, how we have to address it. Now is the time.”
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Emma Erickson, a junior at Appleton North High School, said policies on climate change need to be acted on swiftly given a report last year from the United Nations warning that if global temperature increases are not contained to below 1.5 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels, there could be catastrophic changes to the environment.
‘Green New Deal’
U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Black Earth, spoke to the student protesters about his support of the “Green New Deal” proposal introduced last month to Congress.
“You are the reason climate change is at the front of the pinnacle debate today,” he said. “I will continue to fight to advance this issue and ensure that climate change receives debate and action in Washington.”
The federal package aims to transition the economy away from fossil fuels, move to 100 percent of energy coming from renewable sources and create millions of jobs, but it has been criticized by Republicans as vastly expensive and unrealistic.
‘Best I can do’
Dressed as a polar bear, Middleton High School senior Michael Shulla held a sign declaring, “I care for the polar bears,” saying he came out to support the planet and get youths involved in policy changes.
Rose Banas, a sophomore at West High School, said since she can’t vote yet, “this is the best I can do.”
Many of those who joined the climate change protest in Madison said they participated in the walkout against gun violence almost exactly a year ago.
That protest followed a similar pattern of students marching down East Washington Avenue to rally at the Capitol, calling for gun-control measures in response to a deadly shooting at a Florida high school.