On Friday morning, seven stationary bikes sat in the middle of the wide steps leading up to the Capitol.
When pedaled quickly, they generated power to a speaker system that carried the voices of Utah students here to demand action against climate change. Izzy Allen, a senior at Brighton High School, hopped off one of the renewable riders and walked up to the microphone to kick off the rally.
“It’s so important to be out here taking action for our community,” she said, a little out of breath. “We are here to preserve our future.”
More than 400 kids stood below her, wearing backpacks and letterman jackets and school sweaters. They’ve lived in a world that’s been gradually getting warmer each year since they were born. And on Friday, they walked out of class as part of a worldwide youth strike to fight back.
One girl carried a poster made from an empty box of Honeycomb cereal. Another waved a banner that said, “Reduce, reuse, recycle and resist.” Many flashed the peace sign while they chanted about reducing air pollution. A few read letters they’d written to politicians — including President Donald Trump — to stop fossil fuel projects and push for better recycling.
What they’re standing for, they said, is what they’re standing on: the planet.
The organizers argued that young people are the ones who will be impacted the most by climate change. Earth’s average temperature has risen roughly 1 degree Celsius since the 19th century, contributing to rising sea levels and extreme heat. To avoid catastrophe, according to a recent United Nations study, the world must reduce by half all greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
“The world will end, and it’s our future,” said Azure Grossi, 13, a student at Riverview Junior High School in Murray. She held a poster that read, “Roses are dead, violets are too! Climate change is killing us, too.”
The rally focused on the unique concerns facing Utah — winter inversions, drying lakes, toxic oil spills — as the students stood at the statehouse with smokestacks to the north and a light smog over the valley to the south. It looked a lot like environmental rallies of the 1970s, with students wearing tie-dyed items and flowers and registering to vote.
“We are building off generations of resistance,” said Mishka Banuri, a senior at West High School, where many students left classrooms and walked the couple of blocks up to the Capitol. “We are not young and naive. We are young and unstoppable.”
She talked, too, about how this strike, with similar walkouts around the world, was inspired by 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, a Swedish girl who has rallied against climate change every Friday for the past 29 weeks. The School Strike 4 Climate movement has spread to hundreds of countries and found a particularly strong response in the United States.
“The oceans are rising, and so are we,” shouted Banuri, co-founder of Utah Youth Environmental Solutions.
Most of the students are in high school, though one 11-year-old girl walked up to the microphone and said she wanted a brighter future, and a few elementary-school kids held their parents’ hands. Some of their read: “I want a hot boyfriend, not a hot planet” and “Keep the earth clean. This isn’t Uranus.”
Faces occasionally peered down from windows inside the Capitol during the louder chants. The students called on their state lawmakers to protect national parks and monuments, stop the development of the Utah Inland Port, block future drilling projects and create more opportunities to develop renewable energy.
Kate De Groote, a senior at Skyline High School, called out U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, for saying this week that a Democratic measure to tackle climate change was “tantamount to genocide” for rural areas.
“That’s just No. 1, completely wrong. And No. 2, that’s just completely offensive,” she said. “Climate change is going to kill people. This is a national emergency — a real one.”
Andie Madsen, a junior at West High School, added that “this strike is the best way to start a conversation.” Her classmate, Samson Osime, said politicians may not want to listen, “but they’re working for us.”
Osime then climbed onto one of the bikes on the steps of the Capitol to relieve a tired pedaler as others lined up to speak with the microphone connected by cords to the wheels. They were there to rally and to help one another. And they wanted to show that they could create their own power.