Striking for the planet
Activists organize rally, call on locals to join global day of climate action
Steven Marquardt has a goal: to attract 1,000 people to a local “climate strike.”
Sitting on a lawn at Chico State on a recent evening, he explained to a group of about 15 activists that the idea is to get people to leave their classrooms and workplaces to demand action and answers to address climate change.
Marquardt, a co-founder of the local Sunrise Movement group, conceded that number may be lofty. The Chico Joins Global Climate Strike Rally is scheduled for 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday (Sept. 20) at City Plaza. As its name implies, the event coincides with demonstrations planned around the world.
“Things are going to get crazy these next couple of months,” Marquardt told his peers, “and a lot of people are looking to Sunrise Chico at leading the way in terms of engaging young people.”
The group, composed mostly of college students, got to work, breaking into groups to chalk sidewalks, hang fliers and produce a video addressing why they will strike. They needed to get the word out.
The event and others like it around the world will precede the United Nations Climate Action Summit on Monday (Sept. 23) in New York. There, governments, private businesses and other international organizations will gather with the expectation of presenting ways to reach “net zero” greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050.
Put on locally by 350 Butte County and the Sunrise Movement, the strike will be youth-led, with politicians and other speakers taking questions instead of delivering canned speeches, organizers said.
“The whole thing for 9/20 is just to be upbeat with solutions,” Mary Kay Benson, steering council manager for 350 Butte County, told the CN&R. “We’re not here to scare people more. We’ve been doing that for the past 30 years and it only got us this far. So, now we’re trying to show them the positive solutions that are still possible to turn the ship around.”
All local candidates for political office have been invited to participate in the event, Benson said, and the ones who accept will be required to answer questions by young people during their speaking time. The point is to get local leaders on the record regarding their climate policies, and also to help inform voters.
The strike, Benson said, comes at a time when climate-driven action has gained momentum locally. Following the Chico City Council’s climate emergency declaration earlier this year, the panel this month adopted an ordinance creating a Climate Action Commission (see “Making changes,” Newslines, Sept. 5). That commission will advise the council on how to best implement the city’s Climate Action Plan, with a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels over the next 10 years.
The city and Butte County also are moving forward with the development of a community choice aggregation, which gives local governments the power to purchase and sell energy based on their residents’ needs. Such an arrangement, Benson said, means more “clean” energy options.
Taking concrete steps to address climate change, she said, is needed to address the urgency of the crisis.
“The climate crisis has accelerated exponentially, and we don’t have the time,” Benson said. “The [U.N.] said last year that we have 10 or 12 years, but that’s very conservative, and a lot of scientists are saying we probably have more like 18 months to change the direction. We’re already just trying to mitigate the worst that’s going to be coming down the pike.”
Locally, Benson said, the Camp Fire has contributed to the sense of urgency. The effects of a changing climate have arrived in Butte County in disastrous fashion, and the world is watching with interest in how the community recovers.
Marquardt also has the sense that other disasters, such as the Oroville Dam spillway incident, have awakened people to the effects of climate change.
“People have realized that the crisis is here,” he said. “We know that we’re living in it. It’s not coming—it is here. There is that sense of, we need to do something.”
The Sunrise Movement organizer said his group is still trying to gain a stronger membership and leadership core, and events like the strike can embolden people to move from passive to active supporters in the fight against climate change.
“It’s people power and political power,” Marquardt said. “If you get the right amount of that, you can get a new political alignment. If we don’t have a mass amount of people demanding bold solutions and quite literally taking to the streets to demand it, it does not matter who is in office. We’re not going to get those kind of changes.”