AUGUST 27, 2019 BY 

The following speech was given at the Stand for Our Land Rally on August 23, 2019 at the Routt County Courthouse by Emi Cooper, Steamboat Springs High School student and Fridays for Future organizer.

My name is Emi Cooper. I am 16 years old, and I have been striking for climate action for 6 weeks now. Just over a year ago, a girl my age, Greta Thunberg, started school striking in Sweden to protest the government’s lack of appropriate action towards the climate crisis. I have joined her.

Today I am here to speak for my generation’s future. We have been gifted the privilege of growing up in this place, but we have also been handed down the responsibility of protecting our lands. This place is so special; it a community where we can ski all winter, and camp in those same mountains all summer. Watching a sunset over these hills has instilled a strong love of these places. Possibly, Interior Secretary Bernhardt has never had this experience.

He views the earth as a commodity, something to be extracted for financial gain. He comes into the administration as the latest official now giving a free hand to the industries that once paid him to work as a lobbyist. The Secretary has worked as a legal advisor for timber and mining companies, and as a lobbyist for oil and gas companies. So how can we trust this secretary to protect our public lands? I don’t believe we can.

Public lands are more important than they seem to the naked eye. They are critical in the fight against climate change. They conserve irreplaceable biodiversity and act as an ecological buffer from the natural disasters we have been seeing more and more of.

Most importantly, they absorb greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, postponing the heating effects of climate change. Climate change is predicted to be irreversible in 11 years, and right now we have an administration investing in the industries that actively exacerbate the climate crisis. We must stand for our lands and protest our government’s blatant disregard of what these places mean to us. Secretary Bernhardt is ignoring the severity of our situation, and it shows that he cares more about the financial allure of fossil fuel money than he does about my generation’s future. I for one, am not going to stand for this. Are you?

This is not just an issue that affects me, or everyone locally, or even nationwide. This is a global issue. An issue of this scale requires ambitious action now. If things continue in the direction they are going, my generation’s future will be irreversibly damaged. We will be living with extreme heat, coastal flooding, destructive wildfire seasons, raging hurricanes, and a multitude of health risks threatening my future. So why, Secretary Bernhardt, don’t you care? We need our public lands more than ever, and you are stealing them away, along with my future. How many futures have to be ruined before you care?

Since the Secretary is only looking for economic gain, it is up to us to take action. My generation needs you. We must act and stand for our lands.

You’re here joining me today, and I invite you to join me every Friday as part of the Fridays for Future movement on the courthouse lawn 5 to 6:30 pm. I can’t vote yet, but most of you can. So, I’m asking you to vote as much as you can and make your voice heard. Only our grassroots action will bring about true change. I urge you to get out and vote, knock on doors, make phone calls, donate, and do everything you can in every upcoming election to ensure that we elect leaders at the local, state, and federal level who are actively committed to protecting our planet and future. We don’t have time to be complacent anymore. We must act.