Hundreds of Austin students protest climate change during nationwide “Global Climate Strike”

Laura Morales

More than a thousand Austin students led a local protest against climate change Friday as a part of hundreds of similar worldwide youth-led demonstrations.

The “Global Climate Strike” was inspired by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who demanded action on climate change from elected officials ahead of a United Nations climate change summit on Monday and planned the initial protest in New York. 

The Austin Climate Coalition, an environmental advocacy group, collaborated with several student organizations, including Students Fighting Climate Change, to rally their members to protest at the Texas State Capitol lawn Friday afternoon. During the protest, students and activists spoke on the steps of the Capitol while different activism groups tabled on the lawn.

Matthew Kim, coalition co-organizer and a St. Stephen's Episcopal School junior, estimated 1,000 to 1,200 people gathered on the lawn.

“As youth, we represent the next generation,” Kim said. “There will come a time when we will replace these representatives. They have to recognize that change will happen. It is a matter of whether they will help shape the change or leave us to make it ourselves.”

George Wunch, founder of Students Fighting Climate Change, walked with his organization and other students from the UT Tower to the Capitol and spoke at the event.  

Wunch, a sustainability studies sophomore, said it was imperative for students and young people to join the movement, because climate change is a problem that will affect younger generations the most.

“Our generation is currently facing a crisis,” Wunch said. “We will be the generation that creates change, pushes the boundaries of what is thought to be possible, that fights back against the institutions that caused this crisis and puts new ones in place.”

Emma Galbraith, head coalition organizer and Austin High School senior, said the coalition demands for city and state legislators to stop investing in the fossil fuel industry, close down coal power plants and create climate change adaptation and mitigation plans. 

Galbraith said while sustainable lifestyles help, targeting changes in the industries producing the most greenhouse gases, such as the fossil fuel industry, will make more of an impact.

“The problem is not lifestyles, it’s the institutions that have become the foundation of our lives thanks to the encouragement of our government,” Galbraith said in a speech to the crowd. “We all need to eat, drink and get around. This mentality that has infiltrated part of the climate action community, that not immediately switching lifestyles makes someone a terrible person, is just flat out wrong, and it divides us.”

Anthropology junior Manuel Ortiz said he attended the event to represent those in underdeveloped countries who are often forgotten in the mainstream sustainability movement. 

Ortiz said many people in developing countries are already facing drastic weather events attributed to climate change, and he wanted to bring attention to them.

“A lot of people sometimes forget who climate change affects the most,” Ortiz said. “Especially in Latin America, those communities get unfairly impacted by the changes made by other countries. We are all connected to the planet, and we can’t ignore that.”