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'We’re The Generation That Has To Fix This': Youth Climate Activism Comes To Aspen

Sep 23, 2019

Students march out of Paepcke Park in Aspen during the climate strike on September 20, 2019.
Credit Alex Hager / Aspen Public Radio

Around the world, young people are taking to the streets and demanding action on climate change. On Monday, 16-year-old Greta Thunberg spoke at the United Nations. Even in the Roaring Fork Valley, where many governments and decision-makers have made the climate a priority, young people are saying not enough is being done on a global scale. 

Those young climate activists paint a dire picture. Sometimes literally. One sign at last week’s climate strike in Aspen was a drawing of a house on fire. The message the kids are trying to get across is one of urgency.

“I think that it's our generation that's going to be affected,” said Thea Hecht, a sophomore at Aspen High School. “So we care the most. Yes, our parents will be facing some of this. But our parents will be fine. And we're going to be the generation that has to deal. We’re the generation that has to fix this.”

The young people calling for action have specific demands. From stopping the extraction of fossil fuels to limiting single-use plastics, students have come to the table with a bevy of suggestions to alter the course of climate change. At the march on Friday, Evelyn Leibinger, a junior at Aspen High School, carried a sign that said, “100% renewable is 100% doable.”

“I say this because 100% renewable energy is possible,” Leibinger said. “And we've invented so many things. For example, solar power. We have the resources to do it. It's just, when are we going to put it in full action?”

Youth climate protests have often included direct calls for those in power to enact change. Many refrains address the idea that young people have demands, but rely on adults to put them into motion. One sign at Aspen’s climate strike read, “If you don’t act like adults, we will.”

A student speaks at Paepcke Park during the climate strike on September 20, 2019.
Credit Alex Hager / Aspen Public Radio

Torre, Aspen’s Mayor, is one of those adults in charge. He says politicians in the Roaring Fork Valley aren’t necessarily the ones who need to hear that message.

“Not everybody, you know, in Washington is listening.” Torre said. “And not everybody is on board and ready to make action. But here locally we are, and we're dedicated to doing positive climate mitigation action.”

Torre added that he was heartened to see so many young people standing up for what they believe in, but he also lamented that they had to take to the streets for a “sad cause.”

For some, this global groundswell of young people pushing for action on climate change has inspired hope. Others say it will take more than carrying signs to usher in policy change.

“I'm not even completely completely convinced that this is going to work,” said Tullis Burrows, a senior at Aspen High School who helped organize the strike. “It's just another group of kids. I think there needs to be not only rallies. We can't just stop after the strike.”

Burrows says the next step, and the most important one, is to head to the polls.

“I think we need to find the right ways to channel the energy,” Burrows said. “I think this helps, but it doesn't really matter if we don't vote.”

Students march down Main Street in Aspen during the climate strike on September 20, 2019.
Credit Alex Hager / Aspen Public Radio

Until then, Burrows said being in a town rife with powerful and wealthy adults provides a unique advantage for young climate activists.

“A good portion of the people who have the authority to kind of make the decisions necessary are here,” Burrows said. “And hopefully when they see Aspen kids taking action, they'll be more willing to do something themselves.”

Wednesday, the Pitkin County Board of Commissioners will consider declaring a climate emergency. And earlier this month, a group of students, including the daughters of one of the commissioners, went to the board and suggested that they do just that.