About 50 people braved the wind and the rain to take to the streets of downtown Juneau Friday afternoon to protest lack of action on global climate change.
“You’ll die of old age, we’ll die of climate change,” they chanted as they marched from in front of the state capitol, to the governor’s mansion and down to the cruise ship dock.
The protest was the local participation in a much larger strike led by students worldwide. The BBC reported that millions of people joined the student-led strike across Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas.
The worldwide protest were organized by a group called Fridays for Future, an international organization inspired by 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. Thunberg rose to international fame after she camped out on the steps of the Swedish parliament to protest what she saw as her government’s failure to tackle climate change.
Locally, most of the protesters were in their 20s, and many of them were guides in the local tourism industry.
Annie Goodenough, 27, told the Empire in an interview that many of the protesters downtown Friday were members of a Facebook chat group for local guides.
“A lot of the guiding community, the reason we’re guides, isn’t to make money, we do it because we’re passionate about nature,” she said.
Goodenough said it was important that tourist come and experience Alaska’s natural environment, but she hoped that they would take something more away from their trip. She said she and many of her fellow guides often made an effort to explain the effect of climate change on Alaska during their tours.
“When they’re coming on a cruise ship it’s easy to just walk in and out of the gift shop and get back on the ship and have a bowl of crab bisque,” she said. “Probably the worst thing we could do is avoid the topic because it’s uncomfortable because it is such an important part of what this generation has to deal with.”
On their way from the governor’s mansion, the protesters took a brief detour into the State Office Building where they stopped their chanting, made two quick circuits around the lobby and continued toward downtown.
Outside the building, Lera Jimmerson, 16, of Thunder Mountain High School, said she was only one of a few from her school attended.
“We talked to our school, none of them wanted to come out,” she said. “(My friend and I) just believe it’s worth the cause. We don’t know any of these people but we all share this earth, we love it and we don’t want to see it destroyed.”
Jimmerson was with her friend Emma Magnusson, 15, a home-schooled student who said she wanted her future children to grow up being able to experience the Mendenhall Glacier.
According to the U.S. Forest Service website, the glacier is receding, but at its current rate it would take roughly 200-250 years for it to disappear completely.
As protesters marched downtown, several onlookers cheered them on or took photos, though not everyone was thrilled to hear their message.
“So what?” one man yelled at the protesters’ chant about dying from climate change. “We’re all going to die sometime.”
Malia Stauffer, 24, also a tour guide, said that she wanted to see Alaska and other governments divest from fossil fuels. Asked if she felt that was a realistic goal she told the Empire, “it’s realistic because it has to happen. Not just because of the health and well-being of our planet but because it’s a resource that’s eventually going to end one day.”
Matt Sirkis, 23, said action needs to be taken, and that individual action was an important step toward combating climate change.
“Every small step you take, you’re getting to a bigger step,” he said. “It’s not about feeling guilty about not taking steps, it’s about taking steps and hoping other people follow.”
The protesters said they would be out again on Saturday, Sept. 21, and Sept. 27, “and maybe Saturdays forever,” said Goodenough.