Arizona Students Plan School Walkout to Demand Action on Climate Change

Arizona students at the Capitol earlier this month for Environmental Day. Students like Aditi Narayanan, second from left, are organizing a walkout to demand action on climate change.
Arizona students at the Capitol earlier this month for Environmental Day. Students like Aditi Narayanan, second from left, are organizing a walkout to demand action on climate change. Courtesy of Aditi Narayanan

A group of Phoenix students plan to join youth rallying across the nation next month to demand action on climate change.

They're preparing to walk out of school on Friday, March 15, to urge Arizona politicians to reduce emissions and avert a climate crisis.

"I feel like our state legislators aren't taking the precautions that they should be to prevent this crisis and all these issues that are affecting us," said Aditi Narayanan, 16, a junior at BASIS Phoenix.

Currently, about 15 students in their leadership team in the Valley and around Arizona are organizing to participate in the walkout, according to Narayanan. They plan to gather outside of the Capitol around 4 p.m. on the day of the event, a Friday, after leaving school.

Students strikes calling attention to climate change have taken place in cities across Europe in recent weeks. Inspired by the 16-year-old environmental activist Greta Thunberg, who went on a strike from school outside of the Swedish Parliament last fall, students will rally in over 30 U.S. states on March 15 in a coordinated protest.

Their demands include a Green New Deal, a halt to new fossil fuel infrastructure, and a transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030.

The renewed push for action on climate change follows a dire October 2018 report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In the report, scientists wrote that the world has just over a decade to drastically reduce carbon emissions in order to avoid catastrophic effects associated with heating the globe 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.

Having read the studies on climate change, Narayanan said she raised the idea of a walkout with her activist friends. The idea of participating in the March 15 global action got mostly positive responses, she said, with some exceptions.

"I got a lot of people who were like, 'Oh, I don't know, this might not effect change. Most people might just dismiss us as just kids who don't know what we're talking about,'" she said.

Last year's rallies at the Capitol for the #RedForEd teacher walkout and the March for Our Lives protest helped galvanize their group of students to do more, she said. Now that the midterm election is over, some students were looking for new ways to get involved, and they landed on the climate issue.

Narayanan wasn't sure if their rally will be able to match the thousands of people who went to the Capitol for the similarly youth-led March for Our Lives rally in March 2018. The issues of gun violence and climate change register emotionally with people in different ways, she said.

"The hope is that we get a lot of people, but we'll definitely see how it works," Narayanan said.

At the Phoenix rally, Narayanan said students expect to register voters, hear from supportive lawmakers, and advocate for legislation.

"I generally don’t like the idea of rallies or strikes without any concrete legislation – without any future plans specifically," she said.

Recently, during Environmental Day at the Capitol, the activist students spoke with State Senators Juan Mendez and Paul Boyer, as well as with Representative Isela Blanc. The students invited all three lawmakers to the March 15 rally, Narayanan said.

She said they also spoke to Jennifer Martin, a board member of the Central Arizona Water Conservation District.

District members and other water stakeholders have spent months in painstaking negotiations over potential cuts to Arizona's Colorado River water supply in the event of a federally declared shortage next year. Experts say climate change is exacerbating the drought on Lake Mead and the Colorado River basin.

"Water is a huge issue that's going to be on Arizona's docket in relating to climate change," Narayanan said.

On March 15, they expect some students to travel to Phoenix from their schools in Flagstaff and Tucson. Students will walk out of class before heading to the Capitol, she said.

Although their group of student activists understand some students may not be able to leave school because of concerns about their academics or attendance, they also want to demonstrate the importance of climate change by walking out, Narayanan explained.

"Education is definitely a big priority for us, and we don't want to harm any students in that regard," she said. "But I do say that we should also show climate change as an important priority for us."
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Joseph Flaherty is a staff writer at New Times. Originally from Wisconsin, he is a graduate of Middlebury College and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.
Contact: Joseph Flaherty