Scores of New Paltz High School students walked out of class Friday to march through the center of the village, hoisting signs and chanting for their future.
The march is part of a world-wide climate strike meant to push the issue of climate change to the forefront of world leaders’ agendas. Students from England to India walked out of classes to attend hundreds of planned marches.
The New Paltz march, culminating with a series of speeches by students, activists and local politicians, attracted at least 300 people, including many SUNY New Paltz students and older adults. The average protestor at the march was drastically younger than at most Ulster County protests, which tend to attract a retiree cohort. More than two-thirds of the protestors appeared to be less than 25, and there appeared to be more high school students than college students.
New Paltz, a deep-blue community of about 12,000 between New York CIty and Albany, is often involved in liberal protest actions, most recently about residents being detained by ICE.
Tori Woodward, a senior at the high school, said she came to the protest because she was concerned about the years ahead.
“I maybe might not have a future, or my children won’t have a future,” she said. “I want to be able to live to when I’m old and 80.”
Students were permitted to leave the high school with written parental consent, and students at the middle and elementary schools could be taken out by their parents in the normal fashion, according to a letter sent by Superintendent Maria C. Rice.
Some high school students drove or carpooled, but many walked the two miles to the protest’s starting point in front of the New Paltz Middle School.
School strikes to protest inaction in the face of climate change started with Greta Thunberg, a Swedish girl who began skipping school every Friday in 2018 to protest in front of the Swedish Parliament.
The movement has accelerated rapidly since then, and now includes the British-based monkeywrenching group Extinction Rebellion, the American youth organization The Sunrise Movement, and others.
Globally, Friday’s protests drew a huge number of attendees. More than 100,000 people each turned out in London, Berlin and Melbourne, according to the New York Times.
Kylie Mattsen won’t be graduating New Paltz High School until 2023, but said she was “kind of in charge of organizing” her peers’ participation in the march “just by default.”
Climate change has always been an issue for Mattsen, who grew up in a progressive family, the kind where children are told not to use extra paper towels, she said.
“All of it, all of it is concerning,” Mattsen said of the potential consequences of climate change.
“I want my kids to be able to see animals that are going extinct,” she said. “I want them to be able to swim in the ocean without having to worry about microplastics or chemicals or trash bags floating with them – I want them to have a clean, healthy earth,” she said.
When asked if the future climate was something she would take into consideration when weighing whether to have children, she replied, “absolutely.”
“If [the climate] was that drastically bad…if we have to wear masks whenever we go outside, that’s not a world I want to bring children into, especially if it’s still in a rapid decline, which is what we’re seeing now,” she said.
The speakers at the march’s terminus included students from the high school and SUNY New Paltz, including activists from the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) and Extinction Rebellion New Paltz. State Sen. Jen Metzger, Village of New Paltz Mayor Tim Rogers, and Town of New Paltz Supervisor Neil Bettez also spoke.
The speeches included the expected Trump-bashing, but some speakers spread their outrage beyond the expected targets.
Jana Bergere, a SUNY student and NYPIRG representative, told the crowd that young people needed to come out and vote, or elected officials would not take them seriously.
“Congressman Delgado is not trying hard enough,” she said of the district’s democratic representative.
Supervisor Bettez, an elected official himself, also urged the crowd to push for political change.
“If your politicians will not do the right thing, move them out of the way,” he said.
Unless drastic action is taken, temperatures in New York state are expected to rise four-to-five degrees by 2050 when compared to temperatures in the 1990s, according to the Fourth National Climate Assessment. The Hudson River would rise 2-4.5 feet by 2100.
The region would see other effects, including more flooding and infectious diseases, including Lyme and West Nile Virus, as well as die-offs of plant and animal life.
SUNY New Paltz Freshman Jade Wong said she became more involved in environmental issues her junior year of high school, when she did a class project on Styrofoam.
She is most concerned about die-offs in the world’s oceans and related how plastics affect aquatic ecosystems.
When asked if anyone was to blame for the Earth’s predicament, Wong named the farming industry and the oil industry, but additionally blamed the U.S. Government for not taking responsibility for the crisis.
She is “100 percent hopeful,” Wong said.
“Everyone’s saying the world is going to end by 2050, but I think if we start acting now, and we start really, really pushing the zero waste movement and altogether stop using plastic…I am hopeful,” she said.
Afterward: All the Birds are Dying
There are about 3 billion less birds in North America than there was in 1970, according to a major new study published in the journal Science.
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This represents a 29 percent decline in the total avian population in the two countries in the last 50 years.
At the beginning of this summer, I realized I needed to further educate myself about nature, being such a big fan and all. I therefore began bird-watching, mostly from the balcony I do some of my writing on. I’m happy to say I’ve been able to identify 27 different species of birds from the balcony. It’s incredibly rewarding, and you learn a lot.
Upon reading this…well, not the study itself, but numerous articles ABOUT the study…I felt verklempt, and wandered out to my balcony, flopping on my recliner. I looked out to my yard.
“If it were 1970, there would be 29 percent more birds out there,” I thought. Then I properly did the math and realized a 21 percent decline meant, in 1970, there would be about 41 percent more birds out there. Even if I had looked out at the yard when I was a young child in the late 1980s, there would have been significantly more birds. A very noticeable amount. Here, and everywhere in the country.
If that doesn’t give you pause, then you need your head examined.
I don’t take sides as a reporter. Many do, but I don’t. But if one side is for further eradicating birds – the lovely birds I see through my binoculars that make me feel happy and calm and connected to something bigger than me – then, well, that isn’t a side at all.