Pennsylvania youth join global student strike to demand action on climate change

  • Marie Cusick

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Olivia Shumaker, 16, of Lancaster Mennonite High School organized a student walkout Friday, May 3, 2019 to demonstrate for more action to address climate change.

Young people across Pennsylvania took part in a global student strike Friday to demand action on climate change.

Strikes were planned for cities across the state. About a dozen students gathered in Penn Square in downtown Lancaster to push for a transition toward a net-zero emission energy system.

Sixteen-year-old Olivia Shumaker, the Lancaster event organizer, is a 10th-grader at Lancaster Mennonite High School and is worried about her future.

Scientists have warned the world has little more than a decade to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions — or face mounting threats, including powerful floods, droughts, wildfires, and species die-offs.

“We’re not striking from school because we don’t want an education,” Shumaker said. “We’re striking because it has become a priority that we have a livable future.”

Climate-related risks to Pennsylvanians include frequent extreme weather events, injury and death from those events, worsening air pollution, increasing precipitation, and diminished water quality.

Sophia Zaia, of the Sunrise Movement, attended the Philadelphia strike, which drew about 100 people to the Thomas Paine Plaza, outside the city’s Municipal Services Building, Friday morning. Zaia hopes politicians are paying attention — warning them that young people will vote them out of office if they don’t deal with climate change.

Emma Lee / WHYY

Philadelphia students cut class to participate in a rally at Thomas Paine Plaza on May 3, 2019 to protest inaction on climate change issues.

“I would like to see a Green New Deal passed,” she said. “It’s the only solution to the climate crisis that’s been put forward.”

Student climate strikes have been happening all over the world in recent months. They are inspired by a Swedish teenager, Greta Thunberg, who left school to stage a one-person protest outside the Swedish Parliament last year.

Although President Donald Trump has dismissed the threats posed by climate change, state and local governments across the U.S. are acting.

On Monday, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced a plan to cut the state’s emissions 80 percent by 2050, in line with the goals of the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

Tom MacDonald of WHYY contributed reporting to this story.

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