‘Scolded by a 13-year-old girl’: Global climate strike hits California Capitol steps

About a thousand people gathered at the state Capitol on Friday for a peaceful protest, part of a worldwide demonstration demanding more urgent political action to fight climate change.

With Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg as her opening act, 13-year-old Sacramento native Supriya Patel captivated an audience of predominantly young people – many of them middle- and high-school students who left school early for the day, accompanied by their parents – as she took the microphone to read an open letter she penned to California politicians.

“Dear politicians: I am terrified,” Supriya began. “I am terrified because the climate crisis isn’t rapidly approaching. It’s right here, right now.”

The planned event came as the first of two Global Climate Strikes, a pair of youth-led efforts involving school and workplace walkouts and other demonstrations to protest government policies that activists say are causing irreversible damage to the environment.

The first demonstrations began Friday, three days before the United Nations is set to hold its 2019 climate action summit. A second day of striking is planned for one week later, Sept. 27.

Sacramento’s event, on the west steps of the Capitol, included passionate speeches by Steinberg, Supriya and other young students. The demonstration remained peaceful.

Supriya, the 13-year-old founder of the local chapter of Fridays For Future, got a rockstar’s welcome as she took the podium, and she drew cheers after nearly every sentence she spoke.

“You have forced youth like me to skip school, because we know this is the only that we can get your attention,” she shouted.

The demonstration started shortly before noon, with teens and preteens gathered on the Capitol steps holding signs with slogans like “There is no Planet B,” and at one point chanting the mantra: “Hey, ho, fossil fuels have got to go.”

“Now the decision is yours,” Supriya continued in her letter and speech, which specifically called upon Rep. Ami Bera, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Gov. Gavin Newsom to take action. “Will you speak up and protect your constituents, or will you choose to be spineless, bowing down to corporate interests and being scolded by a 13-year-old girl?”

Pointing to recent disasters like the 2018 Camp Fire and to the threat presented by flooding, Supriya called upon Bera to co-sponsor a national climate emergency declaration.

The strikes are an effort to spur political action against what activists say is a “crisis,” a sentiment echoed by the mayor.

“Some people say, ‘Climate change, it’s an existential crisis,’ as if 30 or 40 years from now we’re going to have to worry about it,” Steinberg said. “It’s not an existential crisis. It’s a state of emergency right now in 2019.”

Friday’s strikes came amid calls for greater action against climate change internationally. The Global Climate Strike drew built upon a youth climate movement led in large part by Swedish student Greta Thunberg, 16, who in August 2018 began skipping school on Fridays to protest outside of parliament against inaction on climate change.

Here in California, Newsom on Friday signed an executive order that directs the $380 billion California Public Employees’ Retirement System and the $237 billion California State Teachers’ Retirement System to work with the governor’s administration to create a framework to begin shifting investments into companies and industries that mitigate climate change impact, “including investments in carbon-neutral, carbon-negative and clean energy technologies.”

Newsom’s order does not call for divestment from fossil fuels, which many environmental activists - including those on the Capitol steps – have vehemently called for.

A few hours earlier on Friday, Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced that California is joining 22 other states in suing the Trump administration, which earlier this week said it was revoking California’s authority under the Clean Air Act to impose stricter limits than mandated by the federal government on automotive greenhouse gas emissions.

The lawsuit was the latest development in the two-year feud between California and President Donald Trump over climate change and pollution restrictions.

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Michael McGough anchors The Sacramento Bee’s breaking news reporting team, covering public safety and other local stories. A Sacramento native and lifelong capital resident, he interned at The Bee while attending Sacramento State, where he earned a degree in journalism.