Pensacola, Florida
Thursday October 17th 2019

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Pensacola Joins Global Climate Strike

By Jeremy Morrison

In August 2018, Greta Thunberg decided to ditch school for three weeks. Instead of attending classes each day, the then 15-year-old student sat in front of the Swedish parliament to protest the lack of action being taken to address the issue of climate change.

By September, Thunberg had decided to evolve her strike into an every-Friday event until Swedish environmental policies aligned with the Paris Climate Agreement from two years earlier. Over the past year, Thunberg has become a darling of the environmental movement, and her Friday protests have sparked a global movement, with students around the world staging climate strikes under the banner Fridays for Future.

On multiple occasions, there have been events coordinated worldwide in the spirit of Thunberg’s Friday climate strikes. Last May, Jett Zhang, a senior at Pensacola High School, helped plan one of these events locally.

On Sept. 20, there will be another such event in Pensacola.

“This time, we’re not just asking students. Anybody can come,” Zhang said, “just to bring everyone’s voice to the table because the issue affects everyone.”

The local rally, scheduled from 4 to 6 p.m. in downtown’s Plaza de Luna, is part of a larger weeklong global climate strike event scheduled to kick off that day and run through the following Friday. Local students are planning it, in coordination with environmental organizations 350 Pensacola and Healthy Gulf, and will feature speakers and music.

“The event is really about the youth, letting them take charge,” said Christian Wagley, who is affiliated with both Healthy Gulf and the local 350 group.

A week before the local climate strike event, Wagley was at Open Books bookstore with a group of volunteers painting signs for the event. He noted that The CLEO Institute has been lined up for the local rally.

“They’re an awesome group out of Miami,” Wagley said, explaining that the group will be gathering signatures on its Florida Climate Pledge.

The climate pledge asks people to commit to supporting environmental initiatives such as setting a 100% renewable energy goal by 2050. Wagley plans to take CLEO to Rep. Matt Gaetz’s (R-FL) office while they’re in town to see if the conservative congressman will sign the pledge.

Unlike some of his fellow GOPers, Gaetz has stated that he buys into the science supporting the concept of climate change. Still, though, Wagley isn’t expecting any miracles.

“It’s all the free-market solutions he promotes, nothing regulatory,” Wagley said.

Looking up from the poster he’s working on, a young volunteer wades into the conversation.

“Is that an OK position to have?” he asked.

“It’s going to take a mix, right?” Wagley said, before clarifying that the issue of climate change will ultimately demand regulatory measures, such as carbon taxes. “But Gaetz would be totally opposed. It’s all free market.”

The volunteer returns to his artwork. Laid out up and down a long table are posters and signs in progress. One alludes to there being “no Planet B,” while another features a polar bear.

“One of them is painting a picture of Greta,” said Sandra Adams, president of 350 Pensacola.

Adams is hoping that the local student population recognizes the need to participate in the climate change discussion. And she’s hoping a number of them will see their way to the Sept. 20 rally.

“I sure hope so. We’re trying our best to get more youth involved,” Adams said. “We really need them.”

The local 350 president is also wondering if people beyond the youth movement will participate in the rally. Nationally, groups of employees with companies such as Amazon have come out in support of striking, but Adams isn’t sure how many people will be walking off their jobs locally.

“I don’t know. I’m curious about that,” she said. “The national [350 organization] is making it that, wanting everybody to leave their jobs. But it started as a youth thing, obviously.”

Adams feels that the climate change issue is gaining increasingly more attention—pointing specifically to a climate change report released recently by the United Nations and a climate assessment released in the U.S. as raising people’s awareness—but keeps waiting for people to give it the attention she feels it deserves.

“I keep thinking it’s gonna take off, you know?” Adams said. “This year seems to be kind of a tipping point. Maybe it was those two reports that came out.”

Grover Ballard, a young volunteer wearing a Dead Kennedys t-shirt, comments that the impacts of climate change seem to be roundly recognized within his generation. It’s not a futuristic theoretical, but rather something they’re already starting to deal with.

“I mean, every month this year is the hottest month,” Ballard laughs.

At the end of the table, an older woman smiled at the comment.

“These are the voices. These are the voices that people need to hear,” said Joanne Peele. “A lot of seniors are not really interested in what young people have to say. It’s absolutely imperative that we listen.”

It’s this element of youth that Wagley is hoping works in climate activists’ favor—both globally and locally.

“There’s nothing like youth, the purity of youth, the dynamic it brings to it,” Wagley said. “It’s hard for elected officials to dismiss them as easily because they’re so damn adorable.”

This is why a person like Thunberg has taken the popular consciousness by storm and inspired a movement. And perhaps youth can harness that kind of energy on the local level as well.

“The big, huge stuff is hard for individual people to do,” Wagley said. “But at the local level, we can do things.”

Wagley suggested that perhaps local youth could co-op Thunberg’s Fridays for Future concept and move it to Thursdays with the intent of attending local government meetings scheduled for that day. Specifically, he’d like to see them push the Pensacola City Council to take action on recommendations stemming from the city’s climate change task force.

“Because nothing’s been done, they haven’t done anything yet,” said Wagley, who served on Mayor Grover Robinson’s mayoral transition team as the point person on environmental issues.

Two of the top items coming out the city’s climate change task force—which Wagley also recommended as part of his transition team report—was a renewable energy goal as well as taking a greenhouse gas emissions inventory for city operations. Thus far, Robinson has been resistant to embracing such measures.

“He’s resistant to that, so, you know, he’s going to need to be pushed on it,” Wagley said.

Maybe, the environmental activist reasoned, it’d be more difficult to say no to environmental issues if the demands were being made by the youth, by people who will be feeling the brunt of today’s inaction.

“We’re regressing at the federal level,” Wagley said. “Right now, the only hope in getting action on climate change is at the local level. And we have a hope with the city.”

Pensacola Climate Strike
WHAT: A rally focused on climate change, in coordination with a week of global climate strikes
WHEN: 4 -6 p.m., Friday, Sept. 20
WHERE: Plaza de Luna, 900 S. Palafox