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NM students demand action on climate change

Emese Magy and Valeria Martinez from Amy Biehl High School enter Robinson Park for the Albuquerque Climate Strike on Friday, Sept. 20. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Local rapper and poet Wake Self gets the crowd going as he raps from what he reads in posters from the crowd about climate change at Robinson Park for the Albuquerque Climate Strike. (Jim Thompson / Albuquerque Journal)

Thousands of New Mexico students joined their counterparts from around the nation and the world in walking out of school Friday to demand action on rising global temperatures and greenhouse gas emissions.

In Albuquerque, students were joined by a large crowd of adults for a rally in Robinson Park. The event was organized by the student-led groups Fight for our Lives and the New Mexico Youth Climate Strike.

Maggie Mazer, a senior at Albuquerque Academy, said she was at the rally because she cares about the environment. Students from Albuquerque Academy say the school allowed excused absences for those attending the rally.

“As citizens of the earth, we need to preserve it, and that’s the opposite of what we’re doing now in our state,” Mazer said.

Student organizers led the crowd in chanting, “sol, not coal” and “climate change is not a lie, do not let our planet die.”

APS officials had previously said students would not be prevented from leaving school, but each student who walked out would receive an unexcused absence. The district was not immediately able to provide an estimate of how many students walked out.

In Santa Fe, several thousand people gathered at the Roundhouse. Many demonstrators broke away from the huge crowd to march down Old Santa Fe Trail, essentially closing three blocks of the street.

Thousands of protesters stop traffic at Paseo de Peralta and Old Santa Fe Trail on Friday as part of the climate strike outside the state capitol in Santa Fe. (Eddie Moore / Albuquerque Journal)

A 17-year-old senior at New Mexico School for the Arts who gave her name as Yang said she wanted people to know “the destruction of our planet” will happen if climate change is not addressed on a legislative level.

“I would like to shift people’s perspectives from it not being real, to realizing that this is going to happen in 20 years,” said Yang, who is from Farmington.

A woman who goes by One-Of-Many dressed in tumbleweeds to protest outside the Roundhouse in Santa Fe on Friday. Thousands joined the Global Climate Strike at the state capitol. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Earlier this year, New Mexico passed one of the country’s most ambitious goals for carbon reduction and renewable energy. The Energy Transition Act requires state utilities to use 50% renewable energy by 2030 and 100% renewable by 2045.

The state is also working to reduce emissions of methane, a harmful greenhouse gas.

But students at the protests wanted more.

They are asking Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the state Legislature to set a goal of 100% renewable energy by 2030. The group also wants the state to establish a “just transition fund” using oil and gas revenue to diversify New Mexico’s economy.

While some walked out of class, for others, the rally became the classroom.

James Grainger, a fifth grade teacher at Albuquerque’s Lew Wallace Elementary School, took his fifth graders to the event to give real-world application to his curriculum. Lew Wallace is less than a mile from the park in the Downtown area.

He said he has taught his class food sustainability through the school’s garden and experts have spoken to the kids about global warming and water conservation. The climate strike was a way to supplement those lessons.

“Save our animals! Save our earth!” Fifteen fifth graders yelled as they marched around Robinson Park behind Grainger.

Students demanded a four-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Limits on fracking haven’t gained much ground in New Mexico, where the technique has skyrocketed the oil industry’s productivity.

The student activists also want the Legislature to pass a law in 2020 that would make solar energy more affordable.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller spoke at the rally, where he applauded the City Council for passing a resolution declaring a climate emergency. The city has a goal of operating on 100% renewable energy by 2025.

“For far too long, we know what’s happened – we’ve asked D.C. to do something and the response is all talk,” Keller said. “We’re tired of excuses. We live in a special city, and we can lead the way on climate change and demonstrate to the rest of the country and the rest of the world what it means to take action.”

Joy Kang, a 17-year-old La Cueva High School student, said she missed an advanced placement class to participate, adding that she decided it was worth it to support the cause. She’s hoping the walkouts and rally will promote education about climate change.

“We still have a lot of people denying it in the first place,” she said.

Elizabeth Livingston brought her children – Reed, age 6, and Audrey, age 9 – to the protest.

“I want my children to understand the importance of using their voices to stand up for something important,” she said. “I can’t think of anything more important than a safe planet for their future.”

After the rally, the crowd marched to the congressional offices of Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall to demand the legislators support the Green New Deal, a legislation package that aims to combat climate change. Heinrich endorsed the legislation early Friday.

Some students participated without having to miss class.

Emese Nagy, a junior at Amy Biehl High School located Downtown and organizer for the charter school’s walkout, said the school was let out early.

“We talked to our principal and arranged to have half the day cancelled,” the 16-year-old said, adding that Amy Biehl had roughly 100 kids at the Robinson Park rally.

Just this week, Lujan Grisham proposed free college tuition for all New Mexicans, a plan that would use oil and gas revenue to help fund scholarships.

Students at the rally said they support the idea but not the way it’s funded.

Arlette Ramos, a sophomore at the University of New Mexico studying environmental planning and design, said the governor should find other avenues of funding.

“We should be investing more in renewable energy,” she said, adding that the state could do a better job utilizing wind and solar.

Ken Bergeron, treasurer with climate activist group 350 New Mexico, seconded that opinion.

“Free tuition is a wonderful idea, but if the price of that program is that we continue to harm our earth, then that price is too high,” he said. “We shouldn’t do a deal with the devil and stick with oil and gas forever just because it’s making money now.”

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