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Teens seek emergency climate declaration

Activists deliver a letter for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to her chief of staff, John Bingaman, in Santa Fe on Monday. The group, Youth United for Climate Crisis Action, organized a climate strike at the Capitol last week. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE – Student activists including several Native American high school students urged New Mexico’s Democratic governor Monday to take more aggressive action to address climate change, insisting that her targets for reducing pollution from vehicles, power plants and oil rigs are not ambitious enough.

About 20 climate activists – mostly high school students – urged Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to declare a climate emergency and set aside state income from the oil and gas industries to pay for the transition to an economy without greenhouse gas emissions.

“In the last year, we have seen increased oil and gas production from our state and do not believe we are on track to meet carbon reduction goals nor end our dependence on fossil fuel revenues,” said a letter from two climate action groups, including Youth Unified for Climate Crisis Action.

State government and school districts in New Mexico rely heavily on income from oil and natural gas production amid a surge in petroleum production in the Permian Basin that underlays portions of southeastern New Mexico and West Texas.

The governor’s chief of staff, John Bingaman, met briefly with the protesters, promising to take their concerns into consideration and highlighting the governor’s commitment to a long list of initiatives and alliances to address climate change. Lujan Grisham was attending indigenous feast day events at the Taos Pueblo community and sent a letter expressing solidarity with protesters.

On Sept. 20, thousands of students thronged the New Mexico state Capitol amid worldwide “Climate Strike” demonstrations that urged world leaders to combat climate change.

Wednesday’s much smaller protest brought demands for a moratorium on fracking for oil and gas.

Seneca Johnson, a 17-year-old Santa Fe resident of indigenous Muskogee and Seminole heritage, said climate change has begun to undercut Native American traditions at sacred sites and is striking fear into her generation.

New Mexico harbors a simmering dispute over the impacts of energy development near the ancient stone dwellings at Chaco Culture National Historical Park, while Johnson says her concerns extend as far as Native American communities in Alaska affected by a warming climate.

“A lot of other young people really feel fear for our future,” she said. “It makes it hard to do everyday things, like going to school. … It’s just making it a lot harder to keep our traditions alive.”