Missoula’s students stood up for their futures on Sept. 20, organizing and executing the Missoula version of the International Climate Strike in conjunction with the worldwide movement, aimed at raising the alarm about climate change ahead of a United Nations Emergency Climate Summit.
Friday’s events included the main rally in Caras Park, followed by a demonstration at NorthWestern Energy, a family-friendly rally at the Courthouse and tree planting in the Rattlesnake area.
Students in Missoula will be striking from school all of this week to attend climate science education events, including speakers, films and workshops.
The day began with the large kickoff rally in Caras Park. Hundreds packed the park steps to listen to youth — high school and university students — spoke on various climate concerns. The main theme: they aren't being taught what they need to know about climate change.
The kick-off not only initiated the full day of climate action, but a whole week of school strikes and climate education for students.
Later that afternoon, over 100 people rallied outside NorthWestern Energy’s Russell Street office, waving signs at passing traffic and singing climate-focused adaptations of Bob Dylan songs. 350 Montana organized the event to draw attention to the NorthWestern Energy’s new 20-year plan, which doesn’t include plans to cut carbon, 350 Montana co-chair Jeff Smith said. Instead of focusing on green energy sources, NorthWestern plans to raise rates for new solar customers, Smith said.
“With our temperatures rising, with our children’s future in the balance, why would you make solar more expensive?” Smith asked the crowd.
NorthWestern spokesperson JoDee Black said the company “encourages productive dialogue” with community members, but she said without coal, the company wouldn’t be able to meet peak demand during severe cold snaps like Montana saw in February 2019.
“A balanced portfolio keeps service safe, reliable and affordable for everyone,” she said.
A few of the youngest protesters at Northwester Energy headed across the river around 2 p.m. for the Families Strike for Our Future rally at the Missoula County Courthouse. Others walked to the family-friendly rally from their middle schools, and a few were checked out of school by their parents to attend the event.
Students in Gillian Kessler's Missoula International School theatre class had been helping plan the rally all week. They walked down to the rally together.
“This is serious business," Kessler told the class before their walk. "You are respectful and you are proud."
Once there, the students practiced their speeches on the lawn of the courthouse while waiting for the rally to begin.
Bodin, an MIS eighth-grader and rally speaker, pledged to do everything he can to combat climate change and implored the audience to do the same.
“I am going to fix what I can now, but I can’t do it alone,” he said, calling for the expansion of renewable energy and a stop to the burning of fossil fuels.
After the rally, Bodin said in an interview that it’s important that people are aware of how they’ll be impacted by climate change. Equipped with the right knowledge, we can stop all of this, he said.
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Later in the afternoon, volunteers braved the autumn rain for a restoration project on Friday evening behind the PEAS farm in the Upper Rattlesnake. The volunteers assisted the City of Missoula Conservation Lands District in replacing non-native plants by planting, mulching, seeding and fencing a site.
Morgan Valliant, conservation lands manager, said the site was cleared for agriculture and lost most of the native vegetation.
“Wildlife and critters are going to love this place in the years to come,” Valliant said.
Alexei Desmarais, one of the volunteers, found the restoration project through researching the global climate strike.
“It’s important to do something tangible and hands-on,” Desmarais said. “Restoration projects are a great way to connect with people.”
Kids from the Clark Fork School helped with the planting.
The organizers for the event included Climate Smart Missoula, Families for a Livable Climate and Missoula Parks and Recreation.