Kansas City youths join in ‘Global Climate Strike’ to urge leaders to act

Young people in the Kansas City area gathered Friday and called on local leaders to take action on climate change.

It was one of many climate strikes and protests in the U.S. and around the world as people demanded definitive action on climate change.

Speakers at the rally in Kansas City’s Frank A. Theis Park called Mayor Quinton Lucas and U.S. Representative Emanuel Cleaver out by name asking them to declare a climate emergency and support a local and national green new deal.

“Young people have the power once again,” said University of Missouri-Kansas City student body president Justice Horn. “If they don’t act, we vote.”

Morgan Said, a spokesperson for Lucas, said in a statement Friday that combating climate change and promoting sustainability are top priorities for the mayor.

“He is actively working toward free public transit, revitalizing Kansas City’s urban core neighborhoods and ensuring that low-income communities – which have been (disproportionately) affected by climate change – are not overlooked as City Hall works to upgrade basic services throughout Kansas City,” the statement said. “This conversation isn’t going away – and neither is Mayor Lucas’s prioritization of this issue.”

Global demonstrations started in Australia, where organizers estimated 300,000 protesters marched in 110 towns and cities, including Sydney and the national capital, Canberra. Demonstrators called for their country, the world’s largest exporter of coal and liquid natural gas, to take more drastic action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In Berlin, police said more than 100,000 people gathered in front of the capital’s landmark Brandenburg Gate, not far from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s, office where the Cabinet thrashed out the final details of a 54 billion euro ($60 billion) plan to curb Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Tens of thousands of mostly young people rallied and marched in New York City, where public schools agreed to excuse students with parental permission.

The “Global Climate Strike” events occurred ahead of the United Nations Climate Summit next week.

The demonstrations were partly inspired by the activism of Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, who has staged weekly “Fridays for Future” demonstrations for a year, urging world leaders to step up efforts against climate change.

“It’s such a victory,” Thunberg told The Associated Press in an interview in New York. “I would never have predicted or believed that this was going to happen, and so fast — and only in 15 months.”

Thunberg is expected to participate in a U.N. Youth Climate Summit on Saturday and speak at the U.N. Climate Action Summit with global leaders on Monday.

Samuel Vigliaturo, right, and others rally in Kansas City on Friday, Sept. 20, 2019, at Frank A. Theis Park. The local march and rally were part of the Global Climate Strike, which asks students and people across the world to step out of their classrooms and jobs to protest the various causes of the climate crisis. James Wooldridge jawooldridge@kcstar.com

Kansas City’s strike, which was predominately organized by UMKC students and the Sunrise Movement KC, also included students from high schools throughout the metropolitan area.

Students walked out of classes at 11 a.m. and met at Frank A Theis Park for a rally about noon.

An organizer from the Sunrise Movement as well as students from Rockhurst University, UMKC and Saint Theresa’s Academy spoke. They highlighted the need to act quickly while speaking about fossil fuels, methane emissions from cattle, food deserts and deforestation.

Kailee Ford, a 17-year-old student at Saint Theresa’s Academy, said that her hope for solutions to climate change turned to frustration this summer after news about forest fires in the Amazon rainforest.

“I have decided to put my anger and frustration into action,” Ford said.

In his speech, Horn called on the University of Missouri system to change.

“The UM System should divest from fossil fuel and reinvest in renewable energy,” Horn said.

The UM System said in a statement that while it appreciated the passion and commitment of their students, change in investment from the system would not have an impact.

“We do not believe that alternatives to fossil fuels exist today at the scale demanded by our global economy,” the statement said. “Furthermore, we do not feel that there is currently any persuasive or compelling argument that suggests divestment by the UM System will have any meaningful impact on the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.”

The statement also said the system had invested millions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and replace power sources in campus facilities.

Another march and rally were held at 5 p.m. Friday near the J.C. Nichols Fountain on the Country Club Plaza. The events included multiple community organizations as well as students.

Michael Wolfe, press coordinator and local policy advisor for Sunrise Movement KC said he expects Friday evening’s rally to be the biggest climate protest in Kansas City’s history.

Speakers will include Kansas City Councilman Eric Bunch and Overland Park Councilman Logan Heley.

Wolfe said the organization has focused most of its organizing efforts on students and young people because they, along with people of color and the poor, will see the biggest impacts of climate change.

“We’re going to live with the results of what we decide to do here,” Wolfe said. “The solutions are on the table and quite frankly adults are letting us down.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

From left: Kyle Helm, Jesse Hill, Charlie Freeling, and others march back to the University of Missouri-Kansas City during the National Youth Climate Strike on Friday, Sept. 20, 2019. The march and rally were part of the Global Climate Strike. James Wooldridge jawooldridge@kcstar.com
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Katie Bernard covers Kansas crime, cops and courts for the Kansas City Star. She joined the Star in May of 2019. Katie studied journalism and political science at the University of Kansas.