ST. PAUL — Thousands of students across Minnesota skipped school on Friday, Sept. 20, to rally for legislative action at the state and federal level to combat climate change.
At the Minnesota Capitol, about 6,000 student activists, parents and other advocates rallied as part of a global push to reduce the emission of heat-trapping gases that spur warming temperatures and more extreme weather events. They hoisted signs and banners and chanted, "we skipped our lesson to teach you one."
The event coincided with rallies around the state, including youth-led strikes in Baudette, Bemidji, Center City, Duluth, Grand Marais, Grand Rapids, Mankato, Moose Lake, Morris, Rochester, St. Cloud, St. Peter, St. Joseph, Virginia, Willmar and Winona.
The push to raise awareness about the effects of climate change comes days ahead of the United Nations Climate Summit in New York City. Around the world, millions of climate activists took to the streets Friday to support the international effort to make countries promise to reduce carbon pollution beyond levels agreed to as part of the 2015 Paris climate agreement.
At the Capitol, the advocates called on Minnesota lawmakers to pass legislation that would transition the state's electric utilities to all carbon-free energy sources within decades and refuse campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry. They urged the Walz administration to declare a statewide emergency on climate and block the construction of a proposed Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline.
"We are done staying silent. This is our democracy," Juwaria Jama, a state Youth Climate Strike leader, told her peers. "We aren't Generation Z. We aren't the last to live and we won't let this crisis be."
Protesters also staged a "die-in" in the Capitol rotunda and took a moment of silence to remember those killed in natural disasters.
Several Democratic state lawmakers met the demands with words of support on Friday, re-upping their commitments to pass legislation addressing climate change during the 2020 legislative session. A day prior, four Democratic-Farmer-Labor legislators announced their formation of the Climate Action Caucus, which they said was forged in an effort to show support for the youth climate strike.
"Young people have told us that they're scared, even terrified," Chair of the House Energy and Climate Committee Rep. Jean Wagenius, D-Minneapolis, said in a news release. "They know they will experience the impacts from climate change for their whole lives. We must build a successful clean energy economy so young Minnesotans will have the future they want and we want for them."
The Walz administration said climate change poses an "existential threat" and brought a proposal earlier this year to move the state's electric utilities to 100% renewable energy sources by 2050. The bill didn't make the cut as legislative leaders and the governor hashed out state spending and policy bills in a series of private meetings this spring.
But the measure has faced vocal opposition from Republicans, who said the plan would put the state's electric grid at risk during extreme weather events and drive up costs for consumers.
“Minnesotans count on safe, reliable, and affordable energy to protect us from some of the nation’s harshest elements,” state Rep. Chris Swedzinski, the lead Republican on the House Energy and Climate Committee, said in a news release. “Proposals House Democrats pushed in the 2019 session would have taken us backward in all three of those areas, heaping expensive tax increases, fees, requirements and policies on people in our state."
Walz in June issued a warning for lawmakers that would stand in the way of passing the legislation: “Next time if you decide not to do anything on climate change, you’ll answer for it next November."
Lawmakers have also floated a proposal that would require electric utilities to prioritize clean energy resources when building new power plants or replacing retired facilities. Exceptions would apply if the clean energy alternative can be proven unaffordable or can't meet the need of the facility.