On March 15, I joined the strike for climate action with 500 young people from across the Salt Lake Valley. Rather than going to class, we gathered on the steps of the Utah Capitol. As we shared our thoughts about the climate crisis, fear for our futures echoed from story to story.
For many teenagers, this was their first protest. One student said they skipped school because the opportunity to demand our politicians act on the climate crisis was too important to miss. I joined the strike to show that our futures should be valued above profit, and that the need for climate action is urgent. If our leaders fail to take climate action now, the burden of climate change will be on my generation.
Ten days after youth stood up for a livable climate, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management will sell off 217,576 acres of public lands in Utah for oil and gas extraction — the largest oil and gas lease sale in Utah since 2008.
Increasing oil and gas extraction in the face of imminent climate crisis is unconscionable. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, society has less than 12 years to shift away from fossil fuels to prevent catastrophe. We already feel climate change in Utah, as last year was our state’s driest year on record.
The public, environmental organizations and indigenous leaders have spoken out in opposition to the oil and gas lease sales. Hundreds of comments have been submitted through formal processes. Protests have occurred outside and inside the Utah BLM office. Yet, the BLM has failed to listen.
So young people decided to take our concerns to Gov. Gary Herbert in hopes that our state’s highest official will protect our future. In 2017, Herbert successfully convinced the BLM to defer parcels near Dinosaur National Monument, and governors of states such as New Mexico, Colorado and Florida have also requested and achieved limitations on oil and gas leasing within their borders and off their coasts. We know the BLM listens to state leaders and we hoped that, as our leader, Herbert would listen to us and stand up for our generation.
Nearly a year ago, Herbert signaled he understood the gravity of the climate crisis when he signed the Concurrent Resolution on Environmental and Economic Stewardship. High school and college students across the state, including myself, worked for two years to convince our legislators that climate change was real. If Herbert takes the words he signed into law seriously, he should request the BLM defer parcels in the March oil and gas lease sale.
On March 19, we delivered a letter to the governor’s office and received a disappointing response. We were told that that as long as constituents were driving cars, the state couldn’t do much to end fossil fuel extraction in Utah, or even stop one oil and gas lease sale. We were given the option to choose a few parcels to save.
As I said in my speech during the strike, compromise is not an option. We need 100 percent commitment from our state leaders to climate action. All extraction will have dire consequences in the face of climate catastrophe.
Herbert has failed my generation. By acknowledging climate change but not following through with substantive action to dramatically reduce carbon emissions, the governor is knowingly sacrificing our future.
Whether the governor acts for young people or not, we will continue to rise like we did for the international climate strike. My generation will hold our leaders accountable and take our futures into our own hands. Clearly, we are the only ones we can rely on.
Mishka Banuri is a senior at West High School and a co-founder of Utah Youth for Environmental Solutions.