Thousands of students walked out of class Friday to lead climate strikes demanding more action to address climate change.
Missoula’s protest drew hundreds to a downtown city park. The protests come as the United Nations prepares to hold its Climate Action Summit on Monday in New York.
Missoula Sentinel High School Junior Maeve Lange drew a hard line in the sand Friday at Caras Park.
"Step up or stand the fuck aside," she said to applause from the crowd.
Lange, one of several local climate strike organizers, leveled that challenge at local educators and school administrators alike. She and over a dozen other student speakers condemn them for failing to acknowledge that climate change represents a direct and existential threat to their future.
"Every subject-area should be directed to explore climate change as the only context in which our learning is embedded; from redefining democracy to permaculture ag to zero-carbon cooking classes, especially since this crisis changes everything."
The education system was hardly the only institution to bear the scathing rebuke of the protestors Friday.
"We were lied to by our country. We’ve been ignored by the media, and all of our politicians have failed us," said 22-year-old University of Montana Environmental Studies Student and Public Service Commission candidate Dan Carlino said.
"We’re in a war with the United States government for climate justice."
Capitalism itself was declared outdated and obsolete at Friday’s climate strike.
"Capitalism is a proponent for climate change," said Hellgate High school student Elijah Pomije. "These corporations are in fact taking a knife and gutting the planet for its natural resources; gutting the planet to try to keep the one-percent in place."
Pomije supports the Green New Deal, a policy from progressive lawmakers in Congress aimed at combating climate change. Its proponents say it would transition the nation’s economy from one built on exploitation and fossil fuels to one based on dignified work and clean, green energy.
Critics, however, say it’s a laughable mish mash of unrealistic goals.
Some student speakers Friday said climate change was making them reevaluate some of their life’s priorities.
"One of my greatest wants in life is to have children," said UM student Gemma Sladich. "It would be such an amazing thing to have kids and raise them to be good caring citizens of this world. But now, with the threat of climate chaos upon us, it feels wrong to want to have children."
Sladich told the crowd that immediate action is needed to reverse the underlying causes of global climate change.
"If we let the climate clock run its course and nothing is done to mitigate the crisis, we will be living in a near future that we as human beings know in our minds to be apocalyptic and dystopian."
I caught up with Gemma after the presentation to ask what she was personally willing to do to help protect the climate.
"I am fully prepared to give up flying. I am fully prepared to not drive my car. I am fully prepared to engage in a complete systematic change. As long as the earth is getting saved, I am prepared to change my life completely," she said.
Solid answers were few and far between at Friday’s Climate Strike in Missoula. And for Sladich, that was kind of the point.
"I’m only a 19-year-old college student. I’m not properly educated on these issues, and that is exactly what this week is for. It is to educate ourselves on capitalism, aspects of climate change, why capitalism isn’t working and what we need to do going forward in order to save our planet."
Missoula Community Climate Week events continue through next week. Participating students vow to walk out of class at least one Friday per month after that.