A handful of Iowa City students, parents and grandparents joined thousands of protestors around the world Friday in calling for action on climate change.
Thousands of students across the globe walked out of school Friday, asking their leaders to act. Many involved in the School Climate Strike are inspired by the activism of Swedish 16 year old student Greta Thunberg, who was recently nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
The organizers in Iowa City gathered at the main office of the Iowa City Community School District, calling on administrators to reduce the district’s energy dependence on fossil fuels, install more solar panels at schools, incorporate more climate science into the curriculum, and electrify the school bus fleet.
Alex Howe is an eighth grader at Southeast Junior High and says parents and teachers have been supportive of him missing school for the strike, but some of his classmates aren’t convinced.
“There’s also some kids at our school who just don’t understand and they call us names. But we don’t really care because we know that if this doesn’t stop there’s not even going to be a future and no one will be around,” Howe said.
Howe says he sees climate change as a real threat within his lifetime, even if some of his peers don’t.
“They’re afraid that they’re going to be thought of as weird because they’re doing this. And I…I don’t really get it because this is our planet,” Howe said. “If you’re going to take being weird over our planet, not being weird over our planet…then it just doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Sara Riggs is the mother of two students at City High School and attended Friday’s climate strike, though she said her kids couldn’t make it. She told the other students there that she’s “impressed” and “proud” of their dedication.
“Listening to your voices is very important for our school district, for the adults to just kind of hear you, sensing the urgency and seeing the future is really in danger,” Riggs said. “I’m all behind you.”
Miriam Kashia with the local environmental organization 100 Grannies For A Livable Future said the group stands behind the students.
“You’ve got the science behind you,” Kashia said. “We will continue to support you and we’ll be here as long as you need us.”
A school administrator declined a parent’s request to have an in-depth discussion with the students gathered in the district’s front offices Friday afternoon, but has offered to meet with the organizers to talk about their priorities.
In an interview with a reporter, Assistant Superintendent Matt Degner said the district respects “the students’ right to express their frustration and protest," but says the district has a formal process to consider policy changes like energy generation.
“I think that’s something that we can get together and that we can potentially look at but it takes a lot of people in the room, it takes a lot of voices," Degner said. “So I think we’re ready to engage and begin that conservation as far as, how can that be accounted for? What are the needs of the community? And ultimately our board has to make some decisions surrounding that as well.”
In 2015, the district decided against a larger transition to solar energy generation, against the wishes of local environmental groups. District leaders at the time cited high costs of implementation.
According to the U.S. government's Fourth National Climate Assessment released last November, the Midwest is “already experiencing adverse health impacts from climate change” and the effects are “expected to worsen." Researchers say the region is slated to see rising extreme temperatures, increasing humidity and rainfall, and lower air and water quality, which can put the health and well-being of Midwest communities, and economies, at risk.