Environment

Hundreds of Louisville students, parents and politicians joined cities around the world in a day of global protest to demand action on climate change.

Elementary and high school students walked out of their classrooms Friday — some without excused absences — to raise awareness and ask for people to consider their future. Led by a coalition of local youth, the day’s demonstration features songs, speeches and pledges to continue resistance until the world commits to tackling the looming climate crisis.

Climate Strike co-lead Fernanda Scharfenberger, 17, told the audience that she wants more than just a call for action, she wants results.

“We’ve seen our political establishment fail us for years now, who have known about the climate crisis and haven’t acted on it,” Scharfenberger said. “We’re here to say that reign is over and that must change.”

Ryan Van Velzer | wfpl.org

Climate Strike co-lead Fernanda Scharfenberger participating in the Louisville Climate Strike on Friday, September 20, 2019.

To that end, the youth coalition asked local politicians to pledge they will not accept campaign contributions greater than $200 from the fossil fuel industry.

They also asked Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer to join just a small number of cities in the U.S. in declaring a climate emergency — he agreed on both counts.

“And I am proud to stand with you and declare that we are in a climate emergency and we must take action now,” Fischer said.

Fischer ceremonially signed the fossil fuel pledge and, as a light rain began to fall, he called on Kentucky’s leaders to do more do more to combat climate change while providing a just economic transition for those whose livelihoods have been impacted, including coal miners.

“…We have to mobilize as a nation to fight the existential threat of climate change just the way we fought fascism and beat it in World War II,” he said.

Ryan Van Velzer | wfpl.org

A girl dances on park bench during the Louisville Global Climate Strike on Friday, September 20, 2019.

Not everyone in the crowd believed Fischer’s comments went far enough however. Jackie Green, who has run for mayor against Fischer, said the city could be doing more to fight climate change including changes to its energy and transportation policies.

“The mayor went nowhere near far enough on what he needed to say to Louisville,” he said.

The students who left their classrooms Friday were in good company around the world. The climate organization 350.org reported hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, perhaps millions, turning out in cities all across the world from France to South Africa to Turkey, Japan and Australia.

Claire Matel, 17, said she came to Louisville’s demonstration because too many people are closing their eyes to climate change.

“A lot of times, I’ll be driving my car, sitting in my classroom, and I just feel so helpless because I see nothing getting done,” she said. “I came out here today to not feel helpless anymore.”

Luka Bell, 15, said he likes to show up at demonstrations, particularly those involving climate change.

“I believe that capitalism is a serious problem and we need to solve it,” he said.

Ryan Van Velzer | wfpl.org

10-year-old Louisa Payne-Young walks on stage with other elementary school students participating in the Louisville Climate Strike, on Friday, September 20, 2019.

Lucy Domingos, 17, said she missed school to attend the climate strike with friends to help raise awareness.

“Stay woke. Come join us and support the cause. The Green New Deal has to happen, we have to change lives, we have to save the future,” she said.

A number of adults also showed up at the protests, and some chose to close down businesses to attend. Others at the event included educators, politicians and activists.

Wren Smith said she came to support the young people who are fighting to save the planet.

“It gives me hope. We can’t move forward without hope and they give me hope,” Smith said.

Ryan Van Velzer | wfpl.org

Between 200 and 300 demonstrators participated in the Global Climate Strike in Louisville on Friday, September 20, 2019.

The world has about 11 years to drastically reduce its reliance on fossil fuels to save the planet from the worst impacts of climate change, according to last year’s report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

In Kentucky, rising temperatures will increase the frequency of extreme weather events including floods, droughts, heatwaves and large storms.

A half-dozen similar climate events were planned around the state.

On Monday, the United Nations 2019 Climate Action Summit begins in New York City.

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.