Today is the Youth Climate Strike, where students across the world will walk out of school to protest inaction on climate change.
That sentiment perhaps has been most famously voiced by 16-year student Greta Thunberg. You might have seen her on the news, sitting outside of the Swedish parliament, with a hand-lettered sign reading “school strike for climate.” One Friday last summer, inspired by the school walkout in Parkland, Florida over gun laws, she started a movement.
Ryleigh Murphy is one of those youth taking a stand today outside of the Pittsburgh City-County Building, from noon to 2:00 pm. She is a 16-year-old sophomore at North Hills High School. The Allegheny Front’s Kara Holsopple caught up with Murphy before the strike.
LISTEN to their conversation
Kara Holsopple: There are some very concrete demands for the strike, like the adoption of the Green New Deal, which includes a 100 percent renewable energy by 2030 and no creation of additional fossil fuel infrastructure like pipelines or fracking. Other demands are declaring a national emergency on climate change and compulsory education for climate change through grade 8. So from your perspective, what are the most urgent issues?
Ryleigh Murphy: I think the most urgent issues would be the fracking industry and the coal industry. The things that are producing the most carbon in the atmosphere that are affecting climate change.
KH: What are you hoping that this strike will accomplish, either locally or nationally in the country?
RM: I understand that our Mayor Peduto is very supportive. He did fight for us to keep us in the Paris Accord. I know we have the support of the mayor and the people in Pittsburgh. But all around, internationally, I just want politicians to recognize that we’re not going away anytime soon, and that climate change needs to be treated as a crisis, and that it’s not going away.
KH: What most frustrates you about how it’s being treated now by politicians or government or people who are in charge?
RM: Well, the people in the government haven’t really even said anything about it being true. I know a lot of people in the White House call it a hoax, and everything, and it makes me angry that they don’t believe that. They need to open their eyes and understand that this isn’t a Democratic and Republican issue. It’s a human issue. They just need to get that through their heads.
KH: So what kind of action would you like people to take? I know there are some solutions that your group is promoting and that the strike is promoting. What are some of the things that you think people should do?
Ryleigh Murphy: Definitely with renewable resources, I know not many people can afford solar power or wind power or anything, but they should move to maybe not eating red meat every day, because agriculture is a big deal with climate change. Maybe if you can walk to places closer, walk to them or take the bus or the train. Maybe not use as much transportation.
KH: What got you involved with the strike? How did you get interested?
RM: I didn’t think there was going to be leading the strike when I first got involved. That was a big shocker to me. I started getting involved because I realized that there wasn’t a strike in Pittsburgh, and I started emailing with the mayor. I’m actually meeting with the Office of Sustainability after the strike to talk about the Green New Deal, or anything that the mayor wants to do to help make Pittsburgh more sustainable.
KH: Well what got you interested in the environment in the first place?
RM: So, my sister moved down to St. Croix. That’s in the Virgin Islands. It’s little bit south of Puerto Rico. Her husband helped work on roofs, because the hurricane down there. I recently went down there, and I worked with FarmPOD. It’s sustainable agriculture. It’s a [aquaponic] farming system.
It got me really interested in what I can do for the environment, because they’re trying to help limit their carbon footprint. And my sister’s been trying to inform me to become vegetarian, because at first I was really stubborn. I used to eat meat a lot. People who eat meat, and they find out about the industry and everything that’s happening, and how it’s affecting the world….they want to do something. So FarmPOD opened my eyes about what’s happening, and how I should be eating. So that’s what really got me first interested in the environment.
KH: What does your school and what do your classmates think about you cutting out of school early to do the strike.
RM: My principal and school board have actually been very supportive of this. I’ve been having conference calls with Climate Reality during the school day. My my teachers have been letting me out of class early to have these conference calls, and for me to get more interactive with everything because they support it. They think what I’m doing is amazing, and that I should keep doing it. So they think it’s great. And we have a lot of people who are attending from my school, like the environmental club here. So, it’s been very supportive.
Sometimes people call me extreme. But I just want get my word out there, and my voice, and try to educate them about what’s happening, because teenagers can be very close-minded. They won’t open their eyes. But I’m just trying to ease them into opening their eyes.
KH: Have you gotten anything negative about it?
RM: I’ve had a few teachers, they kind of interrogate me about climate change and stuff. They were nonbelievers in it. Nothing really that negative, just questions. There’s a lot of questions.
KH: Do you think the strike will make a difference?
RM: I think it will. I really think it will. We’re going to be the future voters, and some of us are actually already voters. We’re going to determine if you get into office and or not. They’re going to need our support.
KH: What gives you hope that there will be some action taken on climate change?
RM: What gives me hope is that people my age are doing this. We have strong voices. We are going to be the ones to change this. It’s going to be our next generation that’s going to do this. We’re going to do it. I know we are. I have hope in us. I have hope in all the teenagers around the world that are striking for future generations, because it’s going to affect us most.