SALT LAKE CITY — Young activists joined by some older counterparts rallied on the steps of the state Capitol on Friday about climate change and issues like the inland port before delivering 4,000 letters to Gov. Gary Herbert’s office demanding political action.
“Climate change affects all of us,” said Alan Gutierrez from the Utah Sunrise Movement, but added that “environmental racism” disproportionately affects people of color and vulnerable communities.
As an example, he pointed to the planned Utah Inland Port on Salt Lake City’s west side, which he said is predominantly home to people of color and immigrants.
“We are not just tokens to be used,” he said.
The project, he emphasized, puts profits over people.
The event was part of the Fridays For Future Global Climate Strike, which is a simultaneous movement across the country and around the world to call attention to a changing climate.
Andie Madsen, a 17-year-old West High School student who is an organizer with Utah Youth Environmental Solutions, focused specifically on Utah public lands issues in her ardent plea to the crowd.
Instead of being at school, she opted to participate in the strike.
“The planet is more important than my future,” she said.
Earlier, she described her activism to push school trust land officials to abandon oil and gas development in favor of renewable energy projects.
She was one of the protesters outside the offices of the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration on Earth Day because it leases parcels of land for natural resource extraction.
Although the entity has a variety of renewable energy projects, Madsen said it needs to give up on oil and gas completely.
“My concern is I think we are using public lands for the wrong reason, for fossil fuel extraction,” she said.
Revenue from school trust lands development ends up going to help schools, but Madsen said students are being forced to support a revenue stream that goes against many of their values.
“They make us choose between having an educated future or a healthy future.”
She and others are also pushing the Salt Lake City School District to commit to being entirely reliant on clean energy sources such as wind, solar or geothermal by 2030 and have had meetings with school board members to urge passage of a resolution making that commitment.
More than 500 students, teachers and parents signed a petition urging that action, she added.
Friday’s event also targeted an upcoming oil and gas lease/sale by the Bureau of Land Management, said Rebekah Ashley, the climate action campaign representative with the Utah Sierra Club chapter.
One protester, for example, sported a sign that said: “Don’t be a fossil fool.”
That auction is offering 24 parcels amounting to 13,000 acres in areas critics say are unfit for natural resource extraction.
The collective concern over a warming planet among attendees at the event is something that should be shared by all people, Emma Cook said.
“I am here because it is an injustice not to be out here,” said the 16-year-old Park City High School student.
Joseph Bonacci, from West High School, said he worries about the future of Utah’s snowpack because he is into winter sports.
“I just really care about the environment,” he said.
All speakers at the rally urged participation in the political system and to actively engage leaders about their concerns on environmental issues.
Jeremy Reynoso, a kindergarten teacher at Meadowlark Elementary School in Salt Lake City, told the crowd that becoming involved can lead to transformation on the political front.
“Make civic duty a habit,” he said.