‘Striking’ Back at Climate Change

SPHS sophomore Amber Chen (right) leads fellow students and supporters in climate-centric chants as they raise awareness around area streets before class, Sept. 20.
Photo by Skye Hannah

Hoping to bring awareness to climate change and the need to reduce carbon emissions, around 30 South Pasadena High School students and supporters gathered at the school before class last Friday as part of an internationally recognized “climate strike.’’

However, these students didn’t exactly go on strike and skip school, as many students worldwide did — they finished up their demonstration in time for the first class of the day.

The student-led and organized group “Saving Mama Earth” carried signs and shared enthusiastic chants as they traveled down Fremont Avenue, stopped by South Pasadena Middle School and then back to SPHS.

The groups’ responsive chants included “Show me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!” “Climate change is not a lie! Please don’t let our planet die!” and “System change, not climate change! Climate action now!”

Signs were brightly painted with messages such as “Winter is not coming,” “Keep organic waste in South Pas” and “This planet’s getting hotter than young Leonardo DiCaprio.”

SPHS sophomores Amber Chen, Max Jimenez, Samantha Molina and Liam de Villa worked together to get the message out, crafted extra signs and led their fellow students who wanted to express their solidarity in the strike for the climate. The group expressed a desire for the community to make lifestyle changes to reduce the amount of pollution being created and human activity-emitted carbon released into the air with fossil fuels.

Chen previously participated in a minimum-wage campaign, and said helping to lead her classmates in a climate strike felt like she was doing her part.

“It’s like an obligation for me to be involved in these sorts of things now,” Chen told the Review. “Especially with climate change, because it really affects kids. I think this strike particularly, it’s more of an extravagant form of public outreach. I feel like a lot of misconceptions around it are that, ‘Oh, these kids expect change right after they strike.’ That’s not what we’re going for. We know change happens really slowly and we understand it’s such a complicated crisis and process.”

Although the earth’s climate has changed throughout history, most of the climate changes are attributed to very small variations in earth’s orbit that change the amount of solar energy our planet receives, according to a fact sheet on climate change by NASA.

The current warming trend is reported to be of “particular significance” because most of it is noted as “extremely likely,” with a greater than 95 percent probability, to be a result of human activity since the mid-20th century. It is reportedly increasing at a rate that is “unprecedented over decades to millennia.”

The evidence presented by NASA includes global temperature rise, warming oceans, shrinking ice sheets, glacial retreat, decreased snow cover, sea level rise, declining Arctic Sea ice, extreme weather events and increasing ocean acidification.

Jimenez and Chen said they were inspired by the strength and directness of 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg. Thunberg, who recently pressed world leaders for more action in reducing carbon emissions in a speech at the United Nations, started taking off time from school on Fridays in August 2018 to demonstrate for stronger climate action outside the Swedish parliament. Other students soon joined her and formed a school climate strike movement named Fridays for Future.

“I really like how blunt she is to everyone,” said Chen. “She’s super blunt, and I really like that. It’s so important to just go straightforward. Don’t put some fluff over it. Just be straightforward.”

Energized by Thunberg’s message and success in rallying fellow students, Jimenez and Chen said they wanted to do something similar for their school while not missing crucial class time. Jimenez said he felt that if they didn’t start a conversation about making changes in how people pollute the environment, no one would. The group has faced some pushback at the school, but members remain positive and steadfast in their message.

“I want to make a difference,” said Jimenez. “I want to bring awareness. A lot of the kids at my school were trash-talking us and saying, ‘Oh nothing’s going to happen, you’re not going to make any change.’ I hope that maybe by doing this story or maybe just walking around and showing our support, we’ll actually make a difference, and I just want people to know that we care, even if adults don’t.”

Madeline Di Giorgi, chair of the Natural Resources and Environmental Commission for the city of South Pasadena, was there to support and said the strike was a global annual event that has been growing for years.

“I think things are getting more real, so to say,” said Di Giorgi. “It’s come to a point where everybody wants to participate. Everybody’s paying attention. We just want to come out here and show our kids that we care. That was the whole purpose of this event. We care about your future and we’re listening.”

When the group passed by SPMS, students from the school excitedly popped their heads out of classroom doors and met with them briefly on the sidewalk to ask them about their march. Middle school students smiled as they interviewed Chen and other students for the Tiger Cub News.

Many drivers honked their support during the walk, with some rolling down their windows to share cheers and encouragement.

Sophomore Jillian Goldstein showed up for the strike and carried a sign crafted by the group leaders. She said that it felt “very moving” and that she was hopeful the message would resonate with her community.

“I hope that more people, especially younger kids like middle schoolers, will be aware of climate change and I hope that it got noticed so people find out about it,” said Goldstein.

Resident Elijah Carder walked alongside the group during part of their walk, recording video on his phone. He said he wanted to show his support and thought it was a “great event and a great activity” that he wanted to see more of in the city.

Reflecting on the event he helped organize, Liam de Villa said he was pleasantly surprised that so many people came out to join them in solidarity.

“It was pretty exciting,” said de Villa. “I think it’s going to have a good outcome. It’s not about policy change instantly. It’s about a demonstration to show your support.”

To learn more about the SPHS movement Saving Mama Earth, visit instagram.com/savingmamaearth.