Students in the Roaring Fork Valley are lending their voices to the global chorus of young people working to restore our climate. As a part of the Global Climate Strike taking place on September 20th, they will join over 1.5 million peers worldwide to send a powerful message: “Our house is on fire — let’s act like it. We demand climate justice for everyone.” 

A brave, grassroots team of climate advocates is leading the local climate strike. The Aspen Junior Environmental Group (AJEG), co-founded by freshman Eske Roennau of Aspen High, along with youth leaders from Aspen Country Day School have been a catalyst for recent climate action in the Valley. When Roennau was asked why it is important for students to lead the way on this crucial issue he responded without hesitation: “Because adults aren’t doing much.” 

CORE agrees that the “grown-ups” could be doing a lot more, a lot faster and is throwing its support behind the movement. Two CORE staffers, Mona Newton and Lara Whitley, are among the adults serving as mentors for the effort. Students are leading the way, executing all planning and legwork, while a handful of professionals are in the background supporting with connections and amplifying the message. When the big day arrives, CORE staff will be marching alongside the climate ambassadors. 

The first step of the strike? Dumpster-diving for upcycled sign-making materials. Cardboard is at the root of the Global Climate Strike. After all, the youth climate change movement was launched into international prominence with a simple sign and an effective message.

Greta Thunberg inspired the Global Climate Strike when the then-15-year-old activist first held a sign in 2018 at the Swedish Parliament reading “Skolstrejk för klimatet,” which translates to “School strike for climate.” Thunberg has gained international credibility through her unrelenting effort to bring attention to the climate, including speaking engagements at the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference and the 2019 World Economic Forum in Davos. Between having the ears of world leaders and a social media following well into the millions, her reach has no bounds. 

The day of local action will start in the morning with students leaving their schools to participate in the strike. Why now and why during school? “We only have 10 years to reverse climate change,” said 14-year-old member of AJEG Elsie Weiss. “We are only striking during school because we have to; we would rather be in school.” 

Students and supporters from the community will walk, bike or use other low-carbon modes of transportation to gather at Paepcke Park with their homemade protest signs. Once together, the rally will mobilize to Aspen City Hall where students will personally deliver their message to the Mayor of Aspen. The climate advocates have two big asks for local, state and national politicians. First: declare a climate emergency like the Town Basalt and several other cities around the country have already done. Second, support U.S. House Resolution 763, The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act of 2019 currently in front of the U.S. House of Representatives that puts a fee on carbon at the point of extraction.

The students are already having a serious impact. On September 11, Weiss and 13 fellow students ages 12 to 16 made a strong case to the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) for declaring a climate emergency. The outcome? The BOCC has agreed to bring it to a vote next week. 

This isn’t the first act of civic engagement for many of these students or many members of the community for that matter. The Pitkin County Planning and Zoning Commission recommended the BOCC approve a 5 MW solar project after receiving a large number comments and letters from the public. Amongst a standing-room-only crowd of adults, Roennau told commissioners,  “I want to preserve my future in the beautiful mountains of Colorado…imagine the whole valley being self-sufficient.” Representatives of the local climate strike also met with Governor Jared Polis during his recent trip to Aspen to voice their concerns

AJEG members Elsie Weiss, Lilly Justice and Kenny McPhee (students from left to right) with Governor Jared Polis

In addition to the strike, Aspen Middle School will be using art to amplify their collective voice. Art teacher, Rae Lampe is coordinating a massive aerial photo of teachers, students and members of the community in the shape of a snowflake. The event is Care about the Climate Crisis or C3 and will take place at 2 pm on the 20th. Lampe said of the photo project, “Young people are our future and we are all part of the bigger picture. It is our responsibility to do something and be heard.”

Thanks to the foresight of our young leaders, the Roaring Fork Valley will be a part of this important global movement. The strike will take place three days before the UN Climate Summit on September 23rd. In all, there will be nearly 1,000 protests in the U.S. and 4,500 globally. The event is all inclusive and all ages to invited to participate.

So…leave work, leave school, hold a sign, march in solidarity with the students!

September 20, 2019 Agenda:
7:40 AM – Demonstrations begin on campuses
8:45 AM – Students leave school on foot or bike
10:00 AM – Students meet in Paepcke Park
10:30 AM – Students meet with Mayor Torre @City Hall
2:00 PM – Climate Art @ AMS & ACDS