Richmond Youth Join Global Protests Demanding Action On Climate Change
This story was reported by intern Patrick Larsen and digital producer Angela Massino, with assistance from Maria Rose.
Millions of people on seven continents turned out Friday for historic protests demanding action on climate change. From Indonesia to Nigeria to the US, the youth-led Climate Strikes took place as world leaders gather at the United Nations.
In Richmond, hundreds came out for two climate protests, calling for the city to declare a state of climate emergency.
At Capitol Square, youth from around the state called for steep cuts to carbon emissions. Even though many protesters are too young to vote, they wanted their voices heard. Open High School student and organizer Jane Ruggles says that the protests aimed to shed light on local issues.
“Climate change is a massive global issue, but it’s also a state issue,” Ruggles said.
As evening fell on the city, demonstrators turned out again, holding signs with slogans like “There is No Planet B,” and “Time is Running Out.”
Climate protest group Extinction Rebellion led the march from Monroe Park to City Hall. Local coordinator Barry O’Keefe says that people need to take to the streets to see change.
“Well, I think the message is there is political will for addressing this crisis, for action, immediate action, on the climate crisis,” O’Keefe said.
Last week, Governor Ralph Northam signed an executive order that directs the state’s energy sector go carbon-neutral by 2050. O’Keefe calls that promise “wildly inadequate,” saying that 2025 is a more appropriate goal.
O’Keefe recognizes that the cost of addressing climate change will be high, but says that the need to save the planet justifies it.
“What climate change threatens is, like, the survivability of the planet,” O’Keefe says
At the end of the march, protesters staged a five minute symbolic “die-in” in front of City Hall. Using a tactic also employed by protestors in places like Bangkok, Thailand and Santiago, Chile, Richmond demonstrators covered the ground in a silent, physical appeal to let leaders know the consequences of inaction.
In New York, thousands packed Battery Park at the tip of Manhattan, with kids climbing trees to get a glimpse of 16 year old climate activist Greta Thunberg.
“The empty promises are the same, the lies are the same, and the inaction is the same,” said Thunberg to a cheering crowd. “No where have I found anyone in power who dares to tell it like it is, because no matter where you are they leave that burden to us, us teenagers, us children.”
In this sea of people was UN Youth Envoy Jayathma Wickramanayake. She worked with a delegation of youth to set the agenda for the first UN Youth Climate Summit, which took place Saturday. Representatives from corporations and UN agencies were invited, but they are there to listen to the youth from over 140 nations and territories.
“I’m hoping they will ask some really tough questions so they will be held accountable for the commitments they are making,” she said.
Many youth attending come from countries experiencing the impact of rising sea levels and changing temperatures. When Renard Siew was a child in Malaysia, coastal flooding drove his family from their home.
“I grew up thinking, hey I actually have to do something about this,” said Siew. “II don’t want another person who is going to be in my shoes to experience the same trauma that I’ve gone through.”
Siew is at the Summit because he wants global leaders to take action.
“I think there needs to be a lot more seriousness, to realize that climate change doesn’t affect just one particular geography, it affects the whole world,” he said.
Another youth representative is Julia Faye Munoz, from Guam, a small U.S. territory in the Pacific.
“We are our islands, our islands are us,” Munoz told VPM. “Once we lose that, we lose our self in a sense.”
As hurricanes and floods transform communities around the world, Munoz said that Guam is often forgotten.
"Whether it’s typhoons or strong tropical storms, we experience them I think more frequently then might be covered or experienced on the continental U.S.” she said.
Here in New York City, Munoz is with peers, who spent the day at the United Nations sharing their experiences and solutions to the challenges their communities face. Now, world leaders have the opportunity to take action on the young people’s demands. On Monday, they gather at the UN to outline how they’ll meet carbon emission caps set in the Paris Agreement.
This story was updated with audio and additional reporting from Angela Massino.
*This story has been updated to clarify Julia Faye Munoz full name.