At Berkshire rallies, students get their say on climate change issues

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WILLIAMSTOWN — Just after 3 p.m. Friday, dozens of children, teenagers, college students and parents outside Williamstown Elementary School practiced a chant: "Hey, hey, ho, ho, fossil fuels have got to go!"

Four high schoolers then led the group members, holding a banner reading "Youth Climate Strike," as they walked away from the school, up Southworth Street, along Route 2 and to the Field Park roundabout.

That's where third-grader Max Holey took the megaphone and talked about penguins and polar bears.

"[They] need help from the ice caps melting," Holey said to cheers and applause.

The strike was one of over 2,000 held around the world to protest government inaction on climate change. Swedish 16-year-old Greta Thunberg started the global #FridaysForFuture movement last August by sitting outside parliament every Friday and demanding that her country align with the Paris Agreement and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 15 percent each year. On Thursday, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

While many students walked out of class Friday to strike against climate change, organizers and Mount Greylock Regional High School seniors Karen McComish and Cathy McPartland wanted to wait until school was over to hold their Youth Climate Strike and Rally in Williamstown.

"We thought it would be appropriate to do it after school so more people could be involved," McComish said. "As young people, we are going to be the most affected by climate change. The majority of us can't vote, and actions like this are the only way we can have a say."

McPartland pointed out that by the time many students at Williamstown Elementary turn 18, it will be 2030, the lower boundary for when the global average temperature is likely to reach 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial times if current levels of human activity don't change. This is according to a 2018 special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

"It's going to be irreversible if we don't take broad and radical action now," McPartland said. "It can't wait until we're in office."

McComish and McPartland have been active before Friday. They have participated in their high school's Youth Environmental Squad and REV [Register, Educate, Vote] clubs and worked with Mount Greylock Regional High School's principal and administration on environmental initiatives.

They have also joined the Massachusetts branch of the national Sunrise Movement, a youth climate activism group focused on the Green New Deal. McComish and McPartland have been in touch with U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal's office several times to ask that he co-sponsor the bill, which proposes economic stimulus programs to address climate change and economic inequality.

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For a number of students marching in Friday's strike, young and older, it was the first time they had taken action to address climate change. McPartland and McComish expect that would just be the beginning.

"I think this will be a good rallying cry where we can also meet other people in the area who are interested in this," McComish said. "This is definitely going to continue."

Pittsfield students show solidarity

Meantime, at Pittsfield High School, students held a climate walkout of their own. A lead organizer, Marie Butler, estimated that about 100 students gathered on the school's front steps around 10 a.m. They held signs, she said, and some spoke and read poems.

"What truly mattered was that we had representation for Pittsfield's youth, whether it be one person or a thousand," she said of the event.

Another student organizer, Jordan Bradford, said the goal of the walkout was to draw attention to student views on climate change, especially since most of the school's students aren't old enough to vote.

"The majority of us students cannot vote on these issues, so this is one of our only ways to show people our opinions on it and show it's something that's important to us," she said.

The government has failed to adequately respond to the growing climate crisis, both students said, and President Donald Trump has shown in his tweets that he doesn't take the issue seriously.

"For over 50 years, evidence has been accumulating that proves our government is aware of the effects of climate change," Butler said during her walkout speech. "They have chosen to not take action for this amount of time, and now we are in a crisis."

The issue is dire, Bradford said, and "we can't ignore it anymore."

"My hope is that this worldwide walkout that happened today will show people in power how important this issue is to us," she said. "This is where our money is going to go; this is how we are going to vote; this is how we are going to march."

Eagle staff writer Amanda Drane contributed to this report.


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