Hundreds of Houstonians gathered on the steps of City Hall last Friday to protest inaction against climate change at the Houston Climate Strike, as similar protests took place around the world. 350 Action Houston, Rice University Young Democrats, and March For Our Lives Houston put together the event as part of a global protest ahead of the UN Climate Action Summit taking place today.
The protest was particularly resonant in Houston following heavy flooding due to Tropical Depression Imelda on Wednesday and Thursday. The crowd’s energy was evident as the assembled group held signs with slogans such as “Act like the House is on Fire" and “Don't burn my future."
“Our so-called natural disasters are no longer entirely natural,” Izzy Richards, a senior at Bellaire High School and a member of Sunrise, a youth activism group dedicated to fighting climate change, told the crowd. “Hurricane Harvey, we know that it was 15 percent more intense and 3 times more likely to occur because of human-induced climate change. My home, along with 204,000 others, was flooded during this storm. This is what being on the front lines of climate change looks like.”
Houstonians of all ages, including Mayor Sylvester Turner, participated in the strike, but it was largely organized by and for students, many of whom are still in high school. “Today, over 500,000 Houston-area students are participating in this impromptu symbolic climate strike along with us,” said 17-year-old Madeline Canfield, a student at Emory High School, who addressed the crowd with Richards. “Thanks to the extensive damage caused by Tropical Storm Imelda, over 26 Houston-area school districts are closed due to inclement weather on this day, the day of international climate action.”
Richards and Canfield pointed out that while Houston is widely considered an oil city, it actually produces very little oil. “Oil and gas drilling in Houston is considered antique. Only 0.8 percent of the oil production in the state of Houston comes from Houston. Houston focuses on management,” Canfield said.
“We are not a city rich in materials," Richards added. "We are a city rich in innovation, we are a city rich in leadership and resilience, and that is why Houston can transition the United States to a carbon-neutral America.”
Anna Alves—senior at Clear Creek High School, chair of the Texas High School Young Democrats, member of Students Demand Action, and a leader of Sunrise Houston—was less forgiving, stating that politicians, corporate officials, and government employees at various levels all had an interest in the perpetuation of climate change. “These people who are sitting in Congress and on the executive boards of major oil and gas companies will not live to see the consequences of their actions, but you know who will?” Alves asked. “We will! Our kids will. Our grandkids will. Politicians and executives sit on piles of money while millions of people reap the consequences of the rising climate that they did nothing to stop.”
Student Paula Ventura founded the environmental club at Sharpstown International School last year after doing a project on climate change. Since then, club members have played an active role in attempting to make the school itself more green, participating in park cleanups and attending events like the one on Friday. Before they spoke to the crowd, we chatted with Ventura and her classmate Devin Guevera, who told us that Sharpstown International had flooded the previous day while they were in class, resulting in its closure Friday. Guevera showed a video of water seeping into the school. “It was kind of scary,” Ventura said. “It was like coming in the windows,” Guevara added.
With the podium towering over him, 7-year-old Chinedu Eze, from the Fifth Ward's Our African Family organization, also addressed the crowd. “The reason why I came to speak today is because last year when I was in first grade I had to shelter in place three times in one month because chemical plants kept catching on fire near my school,” Eze said, the crowd alternately booing and cheering his words.
About an hour and a half into the rally, rain began to fall on the crowd. As it came down harder, protesters huddled closer and closer to the tents in which the speakers stood, chanting, “We’re still here!” During the interlude, Shelly Baker, an activist with the climate activism group 350 Action Houston, led the crowd in a song by Fridays for Future—the movement founded last year by 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg—which protesters sang Friday at marches throughout the world. “Everyone in the world make a future for all that’s fair,” goes the chorus. “Change is always possible because we are unstoppable.”
A representative from renewable energy company EDP Renewables, Vanessa Tutos, also addressed the crowd. “I was told I would be the first adult speaker,” she said. “I find it interesting that the sun was shining on all the youth speakers and then the clouds opened. I think the universe might be trying to tell us something.”