SALT LAKE CITY — Hillcrest High School student Ari Trionfo, one of the leaders of a youth-led climate strike Friday, said it doesn't matter if members of her generation grow up to be politicians — if today's politicians don't act on the climate crisis today, their efforts won't matter.
Trionfo was one of dozens of Utah junior high and high school students who skipped school and walked to the Capitol in Salt Lake City as part of a global youth-led climate strike. The worldwide protest held in over 130 countries was sparked by the efforts of Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old who started the movement last year in Sweden.
“People that are old enough to be making these differences, it’s not going to affect them, it’s going to affect us,” Trionfo said. “We need to do something right now. We have until 2032 and some scientists are even saying 2031, and after that, no matter what we do, it will be too late.”
Last fall, scientists of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a special report that said urgent environmental changes need to be made in the next 12 years to prevent climate change from having a negative irreversible impact on the planet that could lead to catastrophic drought, extreme weather and poverty, according to the study.
Granger High School science teacher Myla VanDuyn is glad to see the next generation "ready to take the mantle" and do what "we should have been doing a long time ago."
Eighteen-year-old Raquel Juarez, another youth leader who's been at every climate strike at the Capitol since March 15, said she often hears others yell at her in the street and tell her that climate change isn't real or that it is a myth.
"Students believe their future is in danger and that the issue of climate change has not been addressed and has been ignored for decades," she said.
Juarez said people in charge have put environmental issues on the back burner for too long, and that the problems have to be addressed with urgency.
Yoram Bauman, co-founder of Clean the Darn Air, a grassroots environmental issues committee, is working to have the Clean Air Carbon Tax Act ballot measure appear on the November 2020 ballot.
"The science is clear that this is a problem that humans are contributing to, and that we should take action. There are smart approaches that we can do to address this problem," Bauman said.
Bauman said the organization held seven public hearings in different regions across the state, spanning from Price down to St. George, with an average attendance of a dozen people at each one. Provo and Price had higher attendance of 20 to 30 people, he said.
After receiving feedback from the hearings, emails from constituents and engaging in conversations with community members, the organization received feedback that some believed its original proposal wasn't investing enough in improving air quality or promoting rural economic development, Bauman said.
Clean the Darn Air has since updated its clean air and climate ballot measure to reflect the feedback; it submitted those updates last Friday. The biggest changes include increasing funding to improve air quality from $75 million to $100 million a year and doubling the funding for rural economic development to $50 million a year.
Bauman emphasized that climate change is more than just a climate issue, it's an economic, health and family issue as well.
The science is clear that this is a problem that humans are contributing to, and that we should take action. There are smart approaches that we can do to address this problem.
He said it's an issue that affects his family and he's heard of companies declining to fly prospective employees to Utah during winter months because of the poor air quality.
"This measure we're working on is pretty close to what most economists would say is a policy to smart action," he said. "We want to tax pollution — not potatoes."
Before gathering the sufficient amount of signatures required, Bauman said the ballot measure is in the process of getting an updated fiscal estimate from the Office of the Legislative Fiscal Analyst and expects it no later than June 17.
Once that's completed, the organization can begin collecting the required 115,869 signatures of registered Utah voters and meet specific signature thresholds in at least 26 of the 29 state Senate districts by February 18, 2020.
"We're excited about the enthusiasm that folks have shown about joining the campaign. It's an initiative that's important to all of us," he said.
Cherise Udell, founder of Utah Moms for Clean Air, came to the Capitol to provide support for the students at the protest.
"The future of these children is at stake. The direction that we're going the planet is becoming extremely unstable and it's going to become more and more unstable if we don't address this issue aggressively in the next 12 years," Udell.
Udell said it's inspiring to see students stand up and speak for themselves, but it's been a "colossal failure" on the behalf of the adults.
"We're the ones who have made this mess, and we're refusing to clean it up. We're not even acknowledging that we've made a mess," she said. "They are the ones that are having reality hit them so hard in the face that if we do not address this problem then they're the ones who are really going to suffer."
Trionfo said the group plans to protest at the Capitol each Friday for the rest of the summer until "something gets done."
Adults are invited to join the next global climate strike, set for Sept. 20.