Across the planet today, millions of students left school early.

Their premature exit wasn’t to get a jump on weekend festivities. They skipped afternoon classes in a unified action to demand an end to the world’s reliance on fossil fuels.

The Global Climate Strike unified people young and old in 150-plus countries, including more than 1,000 locations across the United States. The protests were timed to influence the upcoming United Nations Climate Summit.

In Pittsburgh, kids as young as 5 years marched through downtown streets chanting and carrying signs that read: “This is an emergency!” and “Don’t mess with our mama.”

Maria Isabel Villages, 18, discussed how climate change is affecting the most vulnerable communities.

Mayor William Peduto welcomed Pittsburgh residents, workers and students to participate in the demonstration. The mayor co-signed permission slips for kids who were interested in validating their attendance at this historic event.

Protesters filled the City-County Building portico, where Leandra Mira addressed the crowd and urged lawmakers to take decisive action.

Anais Peterson of the Fossil Free Pitt Coalition joined the demonstration.

The Grant Street building is a familiar spot for the 18-year-old Upper St. Clair native. She has protested from noon to 4 p.m. every Friday for the past 16 weeks to draw attention to Pittsburgh’s poor air quality.

“We need to declare a climate emergency,” Leandra said. “Our politicians are acting like climate change doesn’t exist. If a climate crisis were declared, they wouldn’t be able to deny this is a catastrophic issue. Our own leaders are denying that we are building a plastics petrochemical plant in our backyard that will emit greenhouse gases that make it impossible to meet our climate goals.”

Aidan Graber, 11, from Trafford Elementary School discussed opposition to new gas and oil development in his community.

Leandra spearheaded the local youth movement and speakers, including elementary school activists:

  • Five-year-old Malachi Brown, of Crafton, talked about the effects of plastic and waste on sea turtles.
  • Elsie Ley, 9, of Trafford Borough, touched on impacts to wildlife.
  • Westmoreland County resident Aidan Graber, 11, addressed the fight against new oil and gas development in our communities.
Leandra Mira offers encouragement and guidance to one of the young speakers.

Leandra organized the rally, which was sponsored by 350 Pittsburgh. The local 350 chapter is part of an international movement of citizens working to end the age of fossil fuels and build a world of community-led renewable energy for all. Founded in 2008, the organization’s name 350 is a reference to 350 parts per million — the safe concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

“I should not have to fight the government to save the environment.”

Elise Yoder, a climate action activist and consultant for 350 Pittsburgh, says the organization and its partners are tapping into all of the energy created by young activists.

“Kids in middle school, high school and university want to work with other people their age, and they’re excited to see Leandra and her friends stepping up and taking the lead,” Yoder said.

Benjamin Gutschow,17, of Squirrel Hill, spoke of the injustice of climate change and the importance of a united call to action.

“Also, we’re starting to see a second-generation effect,” she said. “A lot of dedicated environmental and climate activists have been teaching their kids about how our planet works — and about how our political systems work, too. Now those kids are finding their own voices. They’re not afraid to get up in front of a crowd and say what they know is true about the mess we’re in and what needs to happen next.”

“Don’t be a fossil fool.”

Kristy Locklin

Kristy Locklin is a North Hills-based writer. When she's not busy reporting, she enjoys watching horror movies and exploring Pittsburgh's craft beer scene.