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World & Nation

Global climate strikes: Protesters rally around the world

From Paris to Peshawar, Washington state to Washington, D.C., hundreds of thousands of young people led protests Friday demanding action on climate change as a United Nations summit approaches Monday.

In Bangkok, Thailand, demonstrators staged a “die-in,” sprawling on the ground near national environmental ministry offices. In Australia, organizers estimated that more than 300,000 people took to the streets. In London, a girl held a sign that read, “We are skipping our lessons to teach you one.”

The global climate strike protests have been inspired by Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish activist who sailed across the Atlantic Ocean in a zero-emission yacht rather than fly and on Wednesday met with members of Congress, urging them to heed scientists’ warnings. As protesters gathered in New York on Friday to hear Thunberg speak, she tweeted that Battery Park had overflowed with more than 250,000 people.

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In Berlin, more than 100,000 people gathered in front of the Brandenburg Gate near Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office, where all-night talks produced a $60-billion package of measures to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Acknowledging they were inspired by the spreading popularity of demonstrations, Merkel and key ministers in her grand coalition government announced the package of fees on carbon dioxide emissions and incentives for clean energy that they hope will put Europe’s biggest economy back on track to meet its carbon reduction targets.

In northern Pakistan, more than 300 teachers, students and environmental activists marched at the University of Peshawar, chanting slogans such as “Save our planet” and “Earth is our mother.” Asif Khan, a professor and head of the campus Environmental Science Society, which organized the march, called for urgent measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“Actions are required to stop this climate change phenomenon, not words,” Asif said.

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Thousands of protesters marched through central Paris. High school students skipped classes to show their growing anger and frustration. “We are afraid, I mean really afraid, about the destruction of the planet and its resources,” said Katoucha Masson, 15. “Are the politicians doing enough? Non, non, non.”

In Texas, protesters gathered in Austin, in Dallas suburbs, in San Antonio, on the Mexican border and in Houston, which was still reeling from Tropical Storm Imelda with flash flood warnings in effect.

“We face regular environmental disasters like [Hurricane] Harvey and Imelda, while also having hundreds of miles of burn bans and desolate prairie,” said Virginia Gaffney, 19, who participated in the Austin gathering and led the strike in Texas.

The global grass-roots campaign was designed to disrupt everyday life and build political pressure ahead of the U.N. summit, in which heads of state convened by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres plan new climate pledges. Countries planning to forgo pledges include the United States, which President Trump is withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement.

Protesters expressed a growing sense of crisis amid heat waves, floods, hurricanes, droughts and wildfires. Advocates want governments and corporations to set deadlines for switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Rallies were intended to be peaceful, but next week, U.S. activists plan more confrontational protests, aiming to snarl Washington traffic Monday and disrupt San Francisco’s financial district Wednesday.

Justin Campbell, an Amazon data engineer in Seattle, wants the company to become carbon neutral by 2030.
Justin Campbell, an Amazon data engineer in Seattle, wants the company to become carbon neutral by 2030, not 2040, the target set by chief executive Jeff Bezos.
(Richard Read / Los Angeles Times)

In Bow, N.H., organizer Rebecca Beaulieu of 350.org is recruiting volunteers for a protest Sept. 28 designed to shut down Merrimack Station, one of the largest coal-fired power plants still operating in New England. “There are a whole bunch of people who are willing to risk arrest,” she said.

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School systems and corporations struggled this week to respond as students and employees made plans to ditch classrooms and offices. New York City allowed its 1.1 million public school students to skip classes for the day. But the Los Angeles Unified School District encouraged students to remain on campus and “express themselves at school,” a district spokeswoman said.

Patagonia and a handful of other retailers, including Ben & Jerry’s, closed their stores Friday in solidarity with protesters. Rose Marcario, chief executive of the Ventura-based outdoor clothing company, wrote in a blog post that the warming climate is speeding the world toward the biggest economic catastrophe in history. “Capitalism needs to evolve if humanity is going to survive,” she wrote.

At Amazon headquarters in Seattle, more than 1,700 employees walked out, saying their employer is not moving fast enough to reduce its contributions to climate change.

Some carried signs saying, “Customer obsessed equals climate obsessed,” and “Amazon, let’s lead. Zero emissions by 2030.”

In an apparent attempt at a preemptive response, Chief Executive Jeff Bezos on Thursday announced a Climate Pledge for Amazon and other companies to sign. Amazon committed to meeting the goals of the Paris agreement 10 years early and reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2040.

But an employee group in Seattle called Amazon Employees for Climate Justice had called for the company to hit zero emissions by 2030 and to stop helping oil and gas companies accelerate extraction and discover reserves. A company subsidiary, Amazon Web Services, provides cloud computing services to those fossil fuel businesses. Group members, organized Friday’s walkout, said that as a tech leader, Amazon should achieve climate goals sooner, reducing the carbon footprint of its data centers and massive shipping operations.

“If we’re coming in just at 2040, that means that most other companies are coming in somewhere after that, and that’s not enough,” said data engineer Justin Campbell, a member of the group.

Yet Campbell said group members were elated that Bezos made the announcement, adopting some of their wording, a few months after Amazon shareholders voted down a proposal they made for the company to adopt a climate-change plan. Campbell, 31, decided to depart publicly from Amazon’s party line after seeing little change from volunteering for internal company initiatives.

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“I don’t think anyone wants to be part of the generation that knew we had a chance to make a change but didn’t,” he said, “because we thought it was too daunting or another person would do it.”

The Amazon Seattle employees, joined by workers from Google and other tech companies, marched toward City Hall, merging with protesters led by schoolchildren in a colorful, boisterous crowd. “You will die of old age, I will die of climate change,” said a sign held by a 13-year-old girl.

One of the marchers, Faith Fountain, 12, said she joined the protest “because climate change is a real thing and needs to be fixed, and the government’s not doing much about it.” Behind her, 13-year-old Chris Wechkin, hoisting a sign that asked, “Why study for a future we won’t have? Wechkin expressed concerns about growing up “in a world that’s literally dying.”

In Lower Manhattan, swarms of protesters, many of them children and teenagers who had walked out of class, poured into the streets.

Parents brought their toddlers and babies in strollers and carriers. Groups of friends and classmates chanted, sang and waved colorful handmade signs and flags decrying the “climate catastrophe,” many with drawings of the planet on fire.

“Seas are rising and so is our anger,” read one protester’s placard. “Climate justice now,” they chanted, and “You had a future. So should we.”

Protesters gathered midday in and around Foley Square before marching past City Hall and toward Battery Park.

Mari Matoba, a 37-year-old market researcher, took the train in from Brooklyn. She carried her 18-month-old son, Wells, and pulled her 6-year-old daughter, Hadley, out of first grade for the day to come along too, saying the march was as important as any lesson in the classroom.

“We need to be acting immediately to create a world that is not just healthy for our children, but that can sustain their children,” Matoba said.

In Miami Beach, where sea level rise and erosion could place more than 12,000 homes at risk of chronic flooding within the next 30 years, a relatively small crowd of roughly 300 students and adult chaperones gathered outside City Hall in the first of two protests Friday. Their signs read: “I hope my grand kids know how to swim” and “Take a stand before our city is all sand.”

In London, protesters packed streets and parks around Parliament to chant and cheer.

“If you don’t act like adults, then we will,” read one sign held by a student who had ditched school to join the protest. “Why would we go to school if you won’t listen to the educated?” read another sign written in a child’s handwriting.

Protests also took place in other cities around Britain, including Cardiff in Wales, Edinburgh in Scotland, and Brighton and Newcastle in England.

In Mexico City, about 500 people marched from the Angel of Independence monument to the central square downtown in a demonstration meant to pressure the Mexican government to do more to combat climate change. The marchers were of all ages, including children and the elderly, but university students appeared to be the largest bloc participating.

One student, Armando Lopez, 21, said, “We all have to be conscious of how to care for the planet, and in Mexico the president should declare a national climate emergency.” Lopez criticized President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s emphasis on building more refineries and increasing Mexico’s petroleum extraction capabilities while downplaying the development of renewable energy sources.

Organizers said there were 60 such marches and rallies across Mexico on Friday.

In Brazil, protests were scheduled in at least 40 cities across 20 states Friday, with participants demanding better environmental conservation policies and an end to the fires that continue to ravage the Amazon, a result of increased deforestation due to illegal logging, mining and farming, experts say.

In Rio de Janeiro, educational activities were held at the Museum of Tomorrow, and in the northeastern city of Salvador, a public class on environmental preservation was held after the morning protest.

In China, the world’s largest carbon emitter,no major strikes were held. Public gatherings and internet access are strictly controlled in what is also the world’s most populous nation

In the southern city of Guilin, a lone high school student planted trees. Howey Ou, 16, staged a solo protest for seven days in May, in front of the local government building before authorities told her to stop because she did not have a permit. Ou switched to planting trees every Friday instead.

In Hong Kong, student groups canceled their climate actions out of concern for safety. Mass youth-led pro-democracy protests have rocked the city for 15 weeks, many ending in violent clashes with the police. More than 1,400 protesters have been arrested so far.

“We would not want to jeopardize students’ safety through a big group gathering — something which at this moment in time cannot be guaranteed,” the student group Climate Action Hong Kong said in a Facebook post.

Times staff writers Howard Blume in Los Angeles; Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Houston; Tony Barboza in New York; Alice Su in Beijing; Jenny Jarvie in Atlanta; and special correspondents Kim Willsher in Paris; Erik Kirschbaum in Berlin; Christina Boyle in London; Zulfiqar Ali in Peshawar, Pakistan; Jill Langlois in Sao Paulo, Brazil; and Cecilia Sanchez in Mexico City contributed to this report.


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