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Posted: 2019-03-15 21:56:00

Thousands of students around the world — and across the U.S. — skipped school on Friday to protest inaction on climate change.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Around the world, students skipped school today to call for more action to address climate change.

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UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: (Chanting in German).

SHAPIRO: That sound comes to us from Berlin, where students are chanting, "we are here. We are loud because you are stealing our future." These school strikes have been happening for months in some places. The rallies spread to the U.S. for the first time today. NPR's Jeff Brady is covering the story and joins us from Philadelphia. Hi, Jeff.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: So what happened in Philly today?

BRADY: We had a few hundred students from schools in Philadelphia and the suburbs. They all came downtown to a park across from city hall for a rally that was held at noon. A lot of them were carrying signs that read things like, the oceans are rising and so are we. I saw a lot of high school-age people, even some middle school students, who came, you know, with a parent. Some people have been critical of students skipping school to engage in politics. A lead organizer for the strike in Philadelphia, 16-year-old Sabirah Mahmud, addressed that in her speech during the rally.

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SABIRAH MAHMUD: If the social order is disrupted by our refusal to attend school today, then the system is forced to face the climate crisis and enact change.

(APPLAUSE)

BRADY: Mahmud says, until that change comes, there will be more events like this.

SHAPIRO: This seems to be part of a bigger trend of young people protesting around the issue of climate change. There have been sit-ins at congressional offices. Do the students that you've been speaking with feel that there's a generational divide on this issue?

BRADY: Absolutely. I heard that, repeatedly, that adults aren't doing enough to address climate change so young people have to take the lead. One protester I talked with today, 18-year-old Amira Ferjani - she talked about this in a pretty pointed way.

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AMIRA FERJANI: You know Congress. They're pretty much pretty old people. And they don't - I guess it's not as a big deal for them because they don't have that much longer, you know? We're going to be here. Our kids are going to be here. We want to leave a good world for them.

SHAPIRO: What specifically are the students asking for? What do they want to see happen?

BRADY: Implementing the Green New Deal that we've all heard about. That's a centerpiece of their platform, and that, of course, calls for speeding up the country's transition to carbon-free energy and, in the process, remaking the economy in big ways to spread wealth more evenly. The Youth Climate Strike platform also calls for a halt to any new fossil fuel infrastructure projects. That includes things like oil and gas pipelines, and they want compulsory education on climate change and its effects for all students in kindergarten through eighth grade. They say the goal there is to eventually make climate change a nonpartisan issue.

SHAPIRO: How much of a chance do these policies have of becoming reality? It seems that even the Green New Deal can't get the entire Democratic Party behind it.

BRADY: Right. It doesn't look like the Green New Deal resolution is going anywhere in Congress right now. And backers say they understand that. They're looking ahead to the next election. They plan to make support for the Green New Deal a sort of litmus test for candidates.

As the climate change issue gets more attention - and polls are showing that more people think it's an important issue - these activists hope that will kind of intersect with the 2020 campaign. And more people will be elected in that election - this is what they hope. More people will be elected who will make climate change a priority.

SHAPIRO: Was today's protest a one-and-done, or do they have more planned?

BRADY: There are more planned. In fact, they're talking about one in May.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Jeff Brady in Philadelphia. Thanks a lot.

BRADY: Thank you, Ari.

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