For some New York teens, climate change — not the SATs or prom dates — is of utmost concern.
Xiye Bastida, 17, of Morningside Heights, said she and her friends are terrified by scientific studies that have found the effects of climate change will be irreversible in 10 years. She and thousands of other young student activists plan to skip classes Friday to attend a rally in downtown Manhattan and call on world leaders to take swift action.
While city teens may be the face of Friday’s climate strike, their goal is to bring out New Yorkers of all ages.
"A lot of people see the climate movement as something that’s gained a lot of power recently," Xiye said. "But there has been a lot of movement for generations and we want to bring it all together."
Environmental advocates hope the diverse show of force will have a positive impact on efforts to reverse climate change — especially for endeavors that directly affect New York.
The climate strike is set to begin at noon at Foley Square where attendees and speakers will begin a march to Battery Park at 1 p.m., with a planned stop at the New York Stock Exchange. The group will spend the rest of the day in Battery Park where Greta Thunberg — the Swedish teen environmentalist who sailed across the Atlantic last month to advocate for climate change solutions — and others will give speeches.
New York City’s event is one of hundreds of climate strikes scheduled around the world in anticipation of the United Nation’s General Assembly and Climate Action Summit next week.
Cata Romo, an organizer for 350.org, which is helping to facilitate the event, said she expects New York to be the flagship location for the global event.
"With the U.N. Summit, the world will be seeing our members bring their voices to leaders directly," she said.
Steve Cohen, the director of the Research Program on Sustainability Policy and Management at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, likened the strike to the environmental rallies popular among college students in the 60s, 70s and 80s. He emphasized the impact such a dramatic display by young students could have in the fight against climate change.
"It has meaning," Cohen said. "It has an emotional significance that they are taking charge of their own future."
Cohen added that the mayor and education department’s decision to excuse absences for students who receive parental permission to attend Friday’s rally helps show that those in positions of power take issues surrounding climate change seriously. City Councilman Costa Constantinides, who chairs the environmental committee and called on the mayor last week to excuse student absences, said he’d heard from many parents and teachers who supported the cause but didn’t want to disrupt the flow of the students’ lessons, particularly this early in the year. Constantinides, who plans on attending the strike, said those guardians likely will be more open to allowing children and students to attend following the rule change.
"It takes a hard decision away from many parents who wanted them to fight the fight but were afraid there would be some punishment," Constantinides said.
While the strike will mostly focus on the federal government’s recent string of environmental rollbacks — including the Trump administration’s revocation of water and wetland protections — environmental advocates said the rally will also address New York’s pressing climate problems.
Rob Friedman, a policy advocate at the National Resources Defense Council, said several locations in the city are vulnerable to flooding from even small-scale rainstorms and that National Grid is in a standoff with the state over the controversial Williams fracking pipeline between the New Jersey coast and the Rockaways.
"We know about the problems that are being brought upon by climate change, and we cannot continue to build out this infrastructure," Friedman said of the pipeline.
In a statement, National Grid reaffirmed its support for the pipeline saying natural gas "plays a critical role as part of the roadmap to achieve aggressive reduction in greenhouse gas emissions."
Friedman predicted that the rally could be the first of other multigenerational environmental movements to come, and because of its diversity could spawn new advocates from different age groups.
"In the city, one of the beautiful things about a rally or convergence or strike … is you get to see the different aspects of the movement in one space working together," he said.