Act now or swim later.
Holding up signs that urged legislators to “wake up, save our future,” a trio of Ridgefield High School juniors joined protesters in front of the state Capitol building in Hartford during the worldwide Youth Climate Strike March 15.
Their motivation was simple.
“Our generation is going to feel the repercussions of climate change more than any other generation before it, and that’s why this youth movement has started,” explained Hannah Boylan, who walked out of school on the Ides of March with friends Michaela Fitzgerald and Victoria Gibian to insist that Hartford’s politicians prioritize sustainability higher on their respective agendas.
“The legislators aren’t doing enough — climate change just isn’t a priority for them and that’s what has to change,” Boylan said. “The youth of today are going to be directly affected by this inaction and we’re not going to let it stand any more.”
The three girls said they joined about 60 other protesters in Hartford. The group was a mix of students and adults.
“I wasn’t originally planning to go,” admitted Fitzgerald. “It’s a huge issue that I’m passion about but I didn’t know what I could do there...
“We learned we can do something,” she added. “It’s not just up to the politicians to decide our fate.”
The day started with five speakers delivering remarks in front of the Capitol. The protesters also marched around the building where they held up signs and screamed out chants before eventually going indoors to listen to the General Assembly’s Environment Committee deliberate.
“A majority of the day was spent outside,” said Gibian. “We walked around chanting things like, ‘System change, not climate change’ and ‘This is what democracy looks like.’”
It was both fortunate and unfortunate that the temperatures hovered above 60 degrees in the afternoon — an unusual balmy day for mid March.
“Yeah, it was definitely warm out there,” Gibian said. “Not very normal for this time of year.”
Boylan and Fitzgerald take advanced placement (AP) environmental science at the high school, and Boylan plans to major in that subject or political science in college.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about it,” she said. “Human geography and its impact on agriculture is something I’d like to study.”
“I might go into environmental science,” Gibian added. “Last Friday really opened my eyes.”
Gibian said that like a lot of her peers she thought that environmental issues were something out of her control.
“I think there’s a big feeling of helplessness amongst teens about what they can do,” she said. “If everyone feels that way, then we all need to step up because the legislators are not acting fast enough.
“...There are like-minded people invested now who are ready to do just that,” she added. “We just have to keep spreading the word.”
Back to the basics
One of the things that attracted Boylan to the environmental sustainability cause were her trips to Japan last summer and to Costa Rica two summers ago.
“My mom grew up in Japan and my grandma still lives there and one day we went with her to their recycling center, and that really blew me away,” she said. “In the states, people litter everywhere. In Japan, there’s much more responsibility in disposing waste ... I think we need them to teach us how to dispose of trash properly ”
Boylan was inspired to study human geography and its impact on agriculture through her Costa Rican visit.
“We spent the day in this rural village with coffee farmers and got to see what they were capable of doing without causing any detrimental impact on the environment,” she said.
“Costa Rica is such a green country, they’re really advanced when it comes to some of these initiatives,” she added. “And it’s sad because the United States — this great world power — is less advanced.”
Fitzgerald said one of the lessons she took away from the protest is that Americans must learn to go back to the basics.
“Re-use water bottles or don’t use plastic ones at all, turn the lights off when you’re not home or when you’re not using them, and use less water in the shower,” she said. “These simple steps can go a long way.”
While the Hartford protest saw less of a turnout than other regional rallies in New York and Boston, the three Ridgefield students were able to make some important connections.
They met with environmentalist and author Leticia Colon de Mejias, who they hope to recruit to speak at Ridgefield High School in the fall.
“Our teachers were very supportive of us walking out,” said Boylan, who attended the first three periods of class before leaving around 9:45 a.m. “They’re working with us on ways to raise awareness going forward.”
There’s another Youth Climate Strike planned Sunday, April 14, around the globe. Boylan, Fitzgerald, and Gibian all plan to be there holding their signs and repeating their chants.
“We’re expecting a much larger turnout,” Gibian said.
“We’ll spread the word to both parents and students.”
One of the biggest hurdles they face will be apathy.
“We will need to continue to open our peers’ eyes,” Fitzgerald said. “People tend to brush it off and say there’s nothing they can do — well, there is something you can do to change it, and that’s the message we want to get out there to as many people as we can.”
“Climate change can affect anyone’s life at any time,” added Boylan. “And it’s going to affect us all someday, and when it does, it’ll be an everyday thing that we have to live with forever.”