CHICAGO — Some Chicago-area students missed school Friday and flocked downtown to protest the perceived inaction of lawmakers to develop a plan to stave off the most dire effects from climate change.
Several hundred young people, mostly high school age, rallied at Federal Plaza shouting, "No more coal! No more oil! Keep our carbon in the soil!" as they called on federal and state legislators to invest in renewable energy and put Illinois on a path without emissions.
While some students were on spring break, others, including those who attend Chicago public schools, deliberately ditched class to send a message to public officials, including one protester who carried a hand-drawn sign with the message, "If you don't believe in science, why are you upset I'm not in class today?"
The adolescents say they have witnessed the nightmarish impacts of extreme weather: the hurricanes, the most devastating wildfire in California's history and the polar vortex that gripped the Midwest. However, while scientists say these events are becoming more likely as the planet warms, President Donald Trump has called global warming a "hoax" and cast doubt on his own administration's findings on climate science.
"This is a real issue that deserves real attention," said Isabella Johnson, a 16-year-old junior who attends Benet Academy in Lisle. "Climate change is going to cause immeasurable damage -- unfixable damage -- and no one is doing anything about it. How do you expect us to feel?"
Compounding youth frustration is lawmakers who acknowledge the risk posed by climate change, but who say some ambitious plans to mitigate carbon emissions and ward off catastrophic temperature rise are too radical or unrealistic.
Anya Sastry, a 16-year-old Barrington resident, said Friday's rally shows young people are fed up.
"What if your children were in danger?" she said. "If their futures were at risk? Wouldn't you do anything and everything you could in your power to save them? Or would you not even try? Would you give up before you've even begun, saying that saving your children is too unrealistic? That's what these people in power are doing right now."
The Chicago demonstration, held in conjunction with 2,000 other protests in more than 100 countries, was inspired by Greta Thunberg, a teenage activist in Sweden who began protesting outside of the country's parliament building in response to climate change.
Evanston, the site of another youth climate protest, has set a goal to achieve 100 percent renewable electricity for all properties by 2030.
Lame-duck Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel has released a plan for Chicago to move to 100 percent renewable energy in buildings citywide by 2035 and an electric CTA bus fleet by 2040.
Organizers of Friday's rally called on Illinois lawmakers to support a new bill that would transition the state to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker promised he would commit Illinois to achieving 100 percent "clean, renewable" energy, though it's unclear if that might include an energy portfolio consisting of nuclear power, an expensive, but emission-free source that currently provides more than 50 percent of the state's power.
There has been less unity at the federal level, where the "Green New Deal," an ambitious call-to-arms has been hotly debated in Washington. But youth activists said they will be petitioning members of Congress to support the nonbinding House resolution that calls for the country to become carbon neutral by 2030.
Friday's school strike appeared to rival enthusiasm of youth organizers who implored Congress to draft policy to address gun violence following the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
Similar to that campaign, some adults were skeptical of teen involvement in lobbying. One Chicago high school student told the crowd her parents explained she was "too young to be politically active."
She said she took the comment in stride and attended the rally anyway.