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Greta Thunberg joins L.A. climate strike, says wildfires ‘will continue to get worse’

Climate march through downtown Los Angeles
About 3,000 people gather for a youth climate rally, featuring global activist Greta Thunberg, in downtown Los Angeles on Friday, organizers say.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Young people took to the street again Friday to protest inaction on climate change, joining Swedish teen Greta Thunberg and other activists in a school strike in Los Angeles.

Thunberg gathered with California teen and college-age activists who called for both global climate action and a push for state and local leaders to phase out fossil fuel production. Among their demands of Gov. Gavin Newsom and other politicians: a halt to new oil drilling and a 2,500-foot buffer between drill sites and homes.

The strikes are intended to put pressure on politicians “and to make sure they will not get away with continuing like this,” Thunberg said in an interview with The Times before the rally in downtown Los Angeles. “Because the situation is just getting more and more absurd for every day that goes by without something real and drastic happening.”

“We should listen to the science that has been ignored for too long,” she added.

Climate march through downtown Los Angeles
The climate march in downtown Los Angeles is the latest action by the youth climate movement, which has organized students in coordinated school strikes worldwide.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
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Thunberg, 16, is the most prominent face of the youth climate movement that has swept the globe since she began launching school strikes in her home country last year.

She arrived in Los Angeles earlier this week after traveling across North America in a borrowed electric car, and south across California. During her journey, she said she was saddened to see wildfires erupting and the aftermath of the 2018 Camp fire in Northern California, which burned the city of Paradise. “It was just devastating to see the destruction there and the houses that were gone and people telling stories, horrible stories,” she said.

“Of course, wildfires are a natural part of the ecosystem here, but they are being intensified with the climate crisis and it will continue to get worse,” she added.

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The hourlong march began around noon, drums beating as the demonstrators raised their fists and carried hand-drawn signs through the streets of downtown.

“Keep it in the soil,” they urged, demanding “climate justice” and vowing to use the power of social media, public protest — and someday, the ballot box — to oust politicians who do not move swiftly to phase out fossil fuels.

“I’m here because we deserve a future,” said Jasmine Madlener, 16, who came from south Orange County to support Thunberg. “We need as many people as possible. Politicians need to know that we will have the numbers to vote them out.”

Thunberg was the final keynote speaker at Friday’s rally.

“Right now we are living in the beginning of a climate and ecological breakdown. And we cannot continue to look away from this crisis anymore,” Thunberg told the crowd outside City Hall. “We young people have had enough. We say no more. And if our parents won’t speak up for us, then we will.”

The demonstration is the latest action by the youth climate movement, which has organized students across the globe in coordinated school strikes on Fridays to demand action.

“We’re not going to stop striking until they start listening to us,” said Chandini Brennan Agarwal, 16, a 10th-grader at New West Charter School on L.A.’s Westside and one of the strike organizers. “Even though our focus this time is oil wells in California, we’re still trying to send a message about the climate crisis to politicians worldwide.”

Climate march through downtown Los Angeles
Bob Frang of Santa Monica holds a sign Friday in Grand Park in downtown L.A. before the climate change march.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
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Several local activists also took to the stage to speak of their experiences living in the shadow of fossil fuel industries in some of L.A.’s most polluted communities, where residents have long fought for clean air and environmental justice.

“We have oil drilling right next to our homes, we have oil refineries,” said Nizgui Gomez, a 17-year-old from Wilmington and a first-year student at Santa Monica College. “Yeah, we are making little changes, but that’s not enough.”

The demonstration comes after the much-anticipated U.N. climate summit in September failed to deliver the bold action demanded by young people. None of the world’s biggest nations made new commitments to cut emissions, an outcome that served only to galvanize the youth movement’s mission.

Since the summit, Thunberg has made her way across the United States and Canada, participating in strikes in different cities along the way. This week, she made headlines by declining an international environmental award, saying “the climate movement does not need any more prizes.”

During her journey, Thunberg found inspiration in meeting with indigenous leaders and said she was excited to meet in person other young climate activists with whom she has only interacted on social media before.

“I don’t get hopeful by meeting politicians and people in power, business leaders,” she told The Times. “Because they always say the same thing over and over again. What does make me hopeful is the people. To see that people are kind, people want to do good.”

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti issued a statement welcoming Thunberg and other youth activists to City Hall. “The students lifting their voices know the future belongs to them — and this is a moment for leaders to listen to their call,” the mayor said.

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Many protesters agreed.

“We don’t want politicians to speak, we want the front-line youth,” Agarwal said. “We want the politicians to listen.”

Vicky Waters, a spokeswoman for Newsom, said he applauded Thunberg and other youth activists “who are forcing global attention onto these issues.”

“Where national politicians fail, the youth stand up, and are joined by state and local governments in taking action,” Waters said in a statement. “Greta, we hear you, California is committed to decarbonizing our economy while creating inclusive growth, not an either-or, but a yes-and.”

Although there were no official estimates, organizers said about 3,000 people attended Friday’s rally. For some, it was not their only climate-related absence this week. Some demonstrators , had classes canceled after wind-driven wildfires broke out and fouled the air with lung-damaging smoke.

In a statement, Los Angeles Unified School District said it would excuse absences of students whose parents check them out of school to participate in Friday’s climate strike “due to the educational component,” that it would live-stream Thunberg’s speech and hold forums and other activities “to help students discuss climate issues and become advocates for change.”

The next climate strike is scheduled for Dec. 6.


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