SEPTEMBER 19, 2019 BY 

Staged walkout is open to community

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — In solidarity with students from more than 30 countries across the globe, Steamboat Springs High School students plan to strike Friday “to ring the alarm for the climate emergency because governments have failed to take sufficient action to mitigate this unprecedented crisis.”

The Friday, Sept. 20, strike is planned in advance of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit on Monday, Sept. 23.

“We need activism more than ever,” said Steamboat Springs High School junior and youth climate strike organizer Emi Cooper. “We need systemic change.”

 If you go…

What: A youth-led strike to raise the alarm on climate change
When: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday, Sept. 20
Where: Historic Routt County Courthouse

Cooper points to a recent UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report in which the world’s leading climate scientists warn there is a remaining window of about 11 years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, beyond which the damage will be irreversible.

“Changes have to be made now before we run out of time,” Cooper said.

Friday’s strike is part of the Fridays for Future movement, started by 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who spends Fridays protesting outside the Swedish Parliament.

What is happening under our current national leadership, Cooper said, is “the opposite of what we need.”

There are “a lot of climate resiliency projects happening now, but we need more comprehensive climate action,” Cooper said about local efforts.

In advance of Friday’s walkout, Cooper said she and other students have been in communication with school staff. Joined by other members of the Eco Club, Cooper has been talking to every teacher, telling them: “We are striking for our climate because we want to be afforded the same future and environment you grew up with — and we don’t want our future to be out of our control because people in positions of power and leadership won’t take action.”

They’ve also been making the rounds with the students — explaining what the strike is about and encouraging their classmates to participate.

The strike has three specific demands for the local community, Cooper said.

“I don’t think now is the time for hope. Hope leads to complacency. It’s not enough to be hopeful. You have to be action oriented.”

Emi Cooper

First, students want to see an increased investment in renewable energy infrastructure.

Second, they want to see the creation of a composting program, so food waste doesn’t end up producing methane in landfills, Cooper said.

And third, they want to see incentives provided to local contractors or building owners to make buildings more sustainable whether through upgrades or in new construction.

Buildings, Cooper said, are a huge contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

While Friday’s strike is youth-led, Cooper and her classmates encourage people of all ages to join them.

The intent of the strike is to “call attention to the devastating impacts of climate and ecological breakdown that are being felt the world-over,” Cooper said. She also hopes it will inspire people to become more politically active. Many people care deeply, she said, but activism needs to be more accessible.

When it comes to climate change deniers, Cooper prefers to “let science take the lead.” It’s emotionally exhausting, she said, to argue with people who disagree with 99% of climate scientists.

In terms of powerful special interests that block climate change action because they benefit financially from the burning of fossil fuels, Cooper said the answer lies in combatting them with strong public action.

“That’s how democracy should work — it should not be run by special interests and their financial interests, like it is now,” Cooper said. “But it doesn’t always have to be that way.”

CBS poll published a few days ago found that seven in 10 people think human activity contributes a lot or some to climate change. Two-thirds of those polled believe climate change is either a crisis or a serious problem. It also found 67% who think humans can do something about climate change.

Cooper, who is planning on a career in politics, said growing up in Steamboat has shaped her deep appreciation for the natural world. She thinks about her future kids and grandkids, who, without systemic change, “won’t get to grow up with clean air, the Yampa River to play in and a long ski season.” By the time she has grandchildren, Cooper said the prediction is for a three-week-long ski season — something incomprehensible to the former ski racer.

The investment now, Cooper noted, is far less than the money that will be lost if Steamboat loses its tourists, who will no longer come for skiing or recreating in and along the river.

Cooper is also aware of the inequity surrounding climate change, and countries — like the Bahamas and many African nations — that contribute the least to climate change but bear the brunt of the effects — like drought, flooding, famine, hurricanes of increased strength and frequency and sea level rise.

Given the surge of youth activism on the subject of climate change, Cooper was asked if she is hopeful.

“I don’t think now is the time for hope,” she answered. “Hope leads to complacency. It’s not enough to be hopeful. You have to be action oriented.”

To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.