Chicago’s young activists demand climate action, steps to ‘protect our planet’ at downtown rally

Chicago’s young activists demand climate action, steps to ‘protect our planet’ at downtown rally

Teenage activists held a rally Friday afternoon demanding urgent action from government officials to slow climate change, calling it a “public health emergency that affects every breath we take and every sip we drink.”

Dozens gathered in Pritzker Park in the Loop before marching nearly a half-mile to Chase Tower, urging Chase Bank and other financial institutions to divest from the fossil fuel industry.

Last year was the warmest on record globally, and the 10 warmest years since 1850 have all occurred in the past decade, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Illinois climatologists have also said that warmer temperatures in winter are “strongly tied” to climate change, with less snowfall in Chicago.

Young demonstrators carried signs that read “Don’t be a climate fool” and “End climate change” while chanting, “The tides are rising, so are we.” Protesters also sang a parody of the song “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons, saying, “We’re waking up to melting poles, making hot what once was cold.”

The march was organized by the Chicago chapter of Fridays for Future, an international movement started in 2018 by Greta Thunberg and other young activists who protested a lack of action on climate change in Sweden.

“Youth voices are the most powerful in calling for change,” said Natasha Bhatia, one of the Chicago chapter’s founders. “Everyone has a climate story. When we share them, when we speak out together, we truly have the power to create change and protect our planet.”

Particularly in an election year, the 18-year-old said climate change must remain a primary concern among voters and candidates. Whether it’s attending a protest or organizing climate education at schools, she said young people should have support so their voices are heard.

Bhatia started the group alongside Danica Sun after she watched a documentary her sophomore year about ocean acidification, a consequence of increasing carbon dioxide emissions that can hurt fish, oysters and other creatures. Now a Hinsdale Central High School senior, Bhatia said it opened her eyes to the urgency of climate change and “how little action is being taken.”

“I just knew that I wanted to use my voice to make a change,” she said, adding that she sometimes coordinates permits during her lunch break.

More than a dozen other environmental groups, including Chicago Climate Youth Coalition and Sunrise Movement, joined Fridays for Future Chicago at the protest. The march was held in different cities throughout the country as well, each calling on political leaders in wealthy nations to “rein in the fossil economy and limit global heating.”

For Mahima Krishnan, 15, it’s important to protest and “make the right people listen” to fight for a future that isn’t characterized by poor economic outcomes and quality of life due to climate change. She called for investment in clean energy, sustainable transportation and resilient infrastructure.

Krishnan said she also wanted President Joe Biden to declare a climate emergency and curb oil production. According to Bloomberg, White House officials recently renewed talks to invoke a national climate emergency in a move that could unlock federal powers to stifle oil development.

“We demand access to quality health care, clean air, safe water and nutritious food for all,” the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy sophomore said. “It’s time to empower communities, especially the most vulnerable, to adapt and thrive in the face of climate challenges.”

Shreshta Ghanta, 15, added that young people won’t stand by while “our future is compromised,” saying they will fight to create one that is “green and thriving for all.”

“The time to act is now,” she said. “We will not be bystanders in the destruction of our planet. We will be the leaders that save it.”