‘They screwed up our planet, and we want it back.’ Hundreds participate in local ‘climate strike’

Centre County residents — both kids and adults — say their house is on fire, and they aren’t the only ones.

Hundreds of community members took part in a local Global Climate Strike protest held Friday at the Allen Street Gates and Old Main, contributing to a worldwide series of over 5,000 strikes. The protest, inspired by Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg, demanded action against climate change. Kids and adults attended the event — with some State College Area School District students walking out of school despite potential consequences.

Although the rally was attended by people of all ages, many said they were saddened by the significant number of young people with “fearful looks” on their faces who are afraid the damage created by older generations is too great to repair. Reflecting on childhood dreams of becoming teachers, doctors and astronauts, protesters said their aspirations have changed and require quick action.

Now, when they grow up, they want to “save the planet.”

“Everyone that doesn’t know anything about climate change will come to see us just as kids that want to get out of school,” said Chiara Congiu-Hughes, a Delta Program sixth grader. “But we should tell them the real reason we’re coming here is that they screwed up our planet, and we want it back.”

State High student Rosie Torrez said she “risked detention” to attend the rally downtown, along with about 15 others from her school.

Chiara Congiu-Hughes, a Delta Program sixth grader, was among hundreds to attend Friday’s Global Climate Change. Marley Parish mparish@centredaily.com

“There were several adults who told me if I was going to go that there would be repercussions,” she said. “There’s going to be repercussions if I didn’t go.”

Carrying a makeshift sign made from a folder torn out of a notebook, State High junior Cassidy Brown said her mother would have been disappointed if she hadn’t attended Friday’s protest.

“If I wanted to change our world, detention was worth it,” Brown said.

Climate change, the long-term alteration of temperature and normal weather patterns, has lasting impacts, protesters said. The rise in global temperature has led to an increase in natural disasters and extreme weather, a rising sea level and a loss of sea ice.

Highlighting small and large actions that can help make a difference, Friday’s event was meant to call attention to an issue that will have effects on everyone across the globe.

“On our current path, we stand to lose a lot,” said Spencer Hurst, a Penn State energy engineering student. “We stand to lose communities to sea level rise in our lifetime. Rain forests will be lost as cattle farming turns them into barren fields. As carbon dioxide acidifies the oceans, we stand to lose coral. Marine life will die, and what doesn’t will be choked out by plastic pollution. All our habitats will become unrecognizable, and the jet streams they power will slow.”

Climate Strike 2
Hundreds of people attended the Friday afternoon Global Climate Strike in State College. Marley Parish mparish@centredaily.com

Describing climate change and its consequences as “a tragedy of the commons,” Hurst said doing nothing will result in too much loss. Through environmental legislation and sustainable actions, Hurst said humans will learn to become less dependent on fossil fuels, eventually helping create well-paying jobs and innovative futures for future generations.

Participants said Friday’s strikes cannot be the end of climate action. Rather than trying to shout louder than those who call climate change a “hoax” and write protesters off as wanting to skip school, Hurst and others said education, dialogue and collaboration are key to seeing concrete change.

“Through action we stand to gain so much,” Hurst said. “We can change behavior to not be consumers but preservers — saying no to fast fashion, single-use materials and foods whose production rips apart our landscapes.”

Marley Parish reports on local government for the Centre Daily Times. She grew up in Slippery Rock and graduated from Allegheny College.