These Anchorage students skipped school to attend a climate protest. Here’s why, in their own words

Participants in the Sept. 20 Climate Strike hold signs and listen to speeches at Cuddy Park in midtown Anchorage. (Photo by Elizabeth Harball/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Millions of people around the world joined a protest on Friday to demand action on climate change. Many of the young people who particpated were inspired Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old from Sweden who became famous for skipping school to sit outside her country’s parliament to demand action on climate change.

Despite pouring rain, about 300 people of all ages gathered at a park in midtown Anchorage to take part in the global protest. It was organized by Alaska Youth for Environmental Action and its umbrella group, the Alaska Center. Many of the protesters and organizers were students who, like Thunberg, were missing school. Alaska Public Media reporter Elizabeth Harball asked some of them why they attended the Climate Strike instead of going to class. Here’s what they said:

(Photo by Elizabeth Harball/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Camas Oxford, 15: “I personally think it’s more important to be here than at school, because I can’t use my education if there is no world to use it in…We have a letter writing booth set up to send letters to [Sen.] Lisa Murkowski and [Gov.] Mike Dunleavy. I know that Lisa Murkowski, often in the past, she has shown signs of listening to the youth in the community that have been speaking out on what they believe in. I believe that to be very important.”

(Photo by Elizabeth Harball/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Maggie Allen-Charmley, 14 (left): “It’s my future. I need to be there for it. I need to support it. I need action, now.”

Melissa Hurt (Allen-Charmley’s mother): “The climate issue is one that she feels very passionately about and one that she is hoping to make changes in, so this is a great first step for her to be a part of. I thought it was more important than going to school today.”

(Photo by Elizabeth Harball/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Spencer LeFebvre, 17: “If I missed one test today, it doesn’t really mean much in the grand scheme of things. And going to this is supporting something that could potentially make our future better…I’ve grown up knowing that [climate change] is happening and slowly, over time, more and more stuff is happening. And it just becomes a bigger and bigger anxiety.”

(Photo by Elizabeth Harball/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Emily Taylor, 15: “I think climate change is a really big problem that Alaskans, especially, are seeing the effects of…The changing climate also can change animal migration patterns which threatens people who still live a subsistence way of life, which is really important to me because my grandparents did grow up living a subsistence lifestyle. So the fact that many people’s ways of lives is threatened by that is really concerning.”

(Photo by Elizabeth Harball/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Jamay Wingard, 11 (left): “I want people to realize that this is important and take notice of this and try and take all the action they can to fix the situation. They need to stop ruining our future. That would be nice.”

Emily Moore, 12 (center): “We’re basically all here for the same thing — to try to stop all of this so all of the younger kids or babies that have just been born are well and healthy.”

Claudia Rector, 11 (right): “I’m mostly here because I really want to make a difference in the world, and there’s a lot of people that don’t understand what climate change is and people who try to ignore it, try to say that nothing is going on. But they’re really wrong. There is a lot going on.”

(Photo by Elizabeth Harball/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Ana Hokenson 15: “I’ve noticed as I’ve been growing up, we’ve been having warmer winters and it’s been really hot — the big wildfires this year have been insane. It just dawned on me that this is happening right now and we need to do something to change it or else it’s just going to get worse.”

Some U.S. school districts excused student absences if they were participating in the climate strike. The Anchorage School District did not. “We cannot assume that all absent students are at the Strike,” a spokesperson for the school district said in an email, adding that parents and guardians are the only ones who can excuse a student’s absence.

Elizabeth Harball is a reporter with Alaska's Energy Desk, covering Alaska’s oil and gas industry and environmental policy. She is a contributor to the Energy Desk’s Midnight Oil podcast series. Before moving to Alaska in 2016, Harball worked at E&E News in Washington, D.C., where she covered federal and state climate change policy. Originally from Kalispell, Montana, Harball is a graduate of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

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