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Portland youths take their climate-action message back on the streets after pausing for the pandemic

Portland youth climate strikers were back in action Friday after the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to take an 18-month pause.

The mid-day march and rally picked up a cause that youth climate activists had to walk away from — at least when it came to in-the-streets activism — in February of 2020. The marchers called on government leaders to act with urgency to reduce society’s dependence on fossil fuels, because burning it produces greenhouse gas emissions, which are contributing to climate change.

Students from all over Portland walked out of class and met at the Oregon Convention Center early Friday morning. Students and climate activists then marched through the Steel Bridge, eventually stopping at City Hall.

Several students expressed a mix of hopefulness that their message would be heard and frustration that they had to walk out of class to get the attention of lawmakers.

Adah Crandall is an organizer for the youth environment organization Sunrise PDX. She also is the co-leader of Portland Youth Climate Strike. Crandall said there are a list of demands they have for state and city leaders but the overall message she wants leaders to take home — climate change is an emergency and she wants leaders to act like it.

“We need a diversity of tactics and there’s not one thing that is going to fix this. One thing that I am really invested in is decarbonizing our transportation system,’ she said.

Other students like Cleveland High School sophomore Cooper Headrick are also calling on leaders to make similar changes, like increasing public transportation and encouraging the transition to electric vehicles. He’s hopeful climate activism will drive lawmakers to make urgently-needed changes.

“People care, especially young people and high schoolers. We care about what happens to our world and we want to make a change and we want people to change and at my age and for many others here we just can’t do that alone yet.”

Over time, Friday’s crowd got larger before students and climate activists marched across the Steel Bridge, eventually stopping at City Hall. There, a number of speakers shared their climate related experiences from the past year, like the 2020 Labor Day wildfires and the extreme heat waves.

Ida B. Wells High School sophomore JJ Klein-Wolf started off the rally citing the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which the United Nations secretary-general called a “code red for humanity.”

Klein-Wolf also read a list of demands for change, some of those include racial justice reflecting climate justice, switching to green infrastructure and moving up Portland’s Climate Action Plan to be 100% carbon neutral by 2035.

“Extreme heat, drought, and devastating wildfires are becoming the norm. The latest IPCC shared that these impacts will be continually more catastrophic if there isn’t bold and immediate action taken,” she said.

Cleveland High School sophomore Pascale Fisher-Cohen joined the march with her mother, Alicia Cohen, and younger brother. She said lawmakers need to do more to combat climate change and worries if they don’t, this will have a major impact on her future.

“Like, I won’t be able to have what I want and what other generations have had, a family and grandchildren,” Fisher-Cohen said.

She wants lawmakers to disinvest from fossil fuel companies and in turn invest in more renewable energy.

Fridays for Future marches were held throughout the nation marking the first of what organizers hope will be many more in-person youth climate strikes.

Adah Crandall is one of the Portland youths who marched to City Hall on Sept. 24, 2021 to urge policymakers to act to curb carbon emissions that contribute to climate change. It was the first such public gathering since before the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Monica Samayoa /
Adah Crandall is one of the Portland youths who marched to City Hall on Sept. 24, 2021 to urge policymakers to act to curb carbon emissions that contribute to climate change. It was the first such public gathering since before the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Two Portland high school students, who gave their names as Olai (left) and Nyilah. They were among the youths who marched to City Hall on Sept. 24, 2021 to urge policymakers to act to curb carbon emissions that contribute to climate change. It was the first such public gathering since before the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Monica Samayoa /
Two Portland high school students, who gave their names as Olai (left) and Nyilah. They were among the youths who marched to City Hall on Sept. 24, 2021 to urge policymakers to act to curb carbon emissions that contribute to climate change. It was the first such public gathering since before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting