Roughly 150 to 200 people – representing a diverse mix of college and grade-school students as well as long-time community members – gathered at the Village Bakery in Athens Friday morning to join hundreds of thousands of others participating in a global strike demanding major action on climate change.
After hearing speakers and browsing various informational booths from local non-profit and activist organizations, the crowd marched and rode bikes en masse to the Athens County Courthouse uptown.
Speakers at the Village Bakery painted a dire picture of a world in catastrophic global environmental, economic and social crisis, but also struck a tone of hope that things can still be changed for the better.
The youngest speaker – Athens Middle School student Iris Cooke – has been striking all week in front of the Athens County Board of Elections.
“We need to start treating this climate emergency like the emergency it is,” Cooke told the assembled crowd. “We need to start talking about it every day because it is ruining people’s lives. The floods, hurricanes, forest fires, droughts, heat waves and this mass extinction are not going to end unless we put climate change first as the biggest problem we’ve ever faced.”
Marley McKind, a third-year student at OU studying wildlife and conservation, said that America under the system of capitalism has been one of the “greatest destroyers of our environment,” and argued, along with other speakers, that corporations are not being held responsible for their “waste.”
Still, she said she believes that people changing their individual habits can have a big effect on the environment.
“Did you know eating a plant-based diet for a month can save 900 square feet of forest, 3,300 gallons of water, and 600 pounds of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere?" McKind asked. “Imagine that after six months, or after a year.”
Many participants in the global climate strike were young people skipping out of school, whether Ohio University, area public schools or home-schoolers. Some were likely inspired by 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, and she was mentioned by name several times by speakers.