Hundreds of local students walked out of classes Friday as part of the Global Climate Strike, and Santa Barbara High School marchers headed downtown to make their voices heard.
Local teens participated as part of a nationwide protest in conjunction with Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, 16, who went on a weekly strike on Fridays and began skipping school to demand the adoption of renewable energy by the Swedish parliament.
Dubbed the Global Climate Strike, the youth-led activism movement to protest and call out governments for their lack of action on climate change has spread into a worldwide phenomenon since Thunberg began demonstrating alone in August 2018.
“We care about climate change because we think it’s the most imminent threat to our humanity,” said 17-year-old Santa Barbara High School senior Ben Sherman. “It’s one of the most important issues our generation, being young people, will have to face.”
Students called for action, now, to end climate change, and cited concerns about increased flood threats, drought emergencies, weather extremes, wildfires, and other disasters.
As SBHS students walked downtown from the 700 E. Anapamu St. campus, cars honked in support of protesters and some adults offered high-fives to the passing crowds.
Students descended by 10:45 a.m., waving and holding signs that read, “Global warming is not cool,” and “System change not climate change.”
At one point, a group on Anacapa Street started chanting, “Hey hey ho ho climate change has got to go.”
Even though most participating students are not old enough to vote, they hope their actions will demonstrate their concerns for the future of the planet and will put pressure on politicians to recognize the severe threats of climate change, said SBHS senior Evan Sherman, Ben's twin.
“We need to change the conversation on a national level from — is climate change a threat? — to ‘yes,’ and here’s how we are going to respond to it,” Evan said. “Here’s how we are going to move forward and protect our future.”
Walkouts, rallies and marches were planned at schools in 150 countries on Friday.
In Goleta, Dos Pueblos High students left campus and walked to Girsh Park for a rally, with speeches and a voter registration table.
Student organizers were working with climate campaigners from Sunrise Movement Santa Barbara, a youth-led political movement fighting to end climate change and stop new oil projects.
“In terms of climate change, the action politicians take now will not necessarily affect us today,” said Winter Sierra, a Sunrise Movement Santa Barbara member and 21-year-old UC Santa Barbara student. “The people who don’t have the right to vote now are the people who are going to be affected.”
Frann Wageneck, assistant superintendent of student services, said Santa Barbara Unified School District handled Friday’s protest under California's education code. Students who miss school to strike will be marked unexcused.
“Protesting something or civic engagement sometimes requires sacrifice,” Wageneck said. “This is a small sacrifice for them to have an unexcused absence. It’s a trade-off.”