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Students demonstrate on Long Island to demand action to stop climate change

Joanna Ziegler, 17, left, a senior at Sayville

Joanna Ziegler, 17, left, a senior at Sayville High School, joins others Friday in front of Islip Town Hall, where they held a rally to save the climate. Photo Credit: James Carbone

Whether they trekked into Manhattan or traveled from school grounds to Town Hall, students on Long Island spoke up in unison Friday as youth across the globe demanded action from world leaders on climate change. 

In East Hampton, nearly 40 students gathered in front of East Hampton High School in a walkout protest to raise awareness to climate change.

The students were supported by more than 20 people who gathered behind a fence separating them from the youths. The youths, many of them members of the school’s Environmental Awareness Club held up decorated signs with messages such as “Just say YES to clean energy”, “Students 4 Climate Action”, “Clean Energy Now” and “There is No Planet B.”

“What do we want? Action! When do we want it? Now!” the students chanted at the beginning of their demonstration, which lasted from 12:15 p.m. to 12:57 p.m., the students missing one school period for their protest. Fielding questions from the crowd, the students expressed their concerns about climate change and suggested taking action from reducing consumption of plastics to voting for presidential candidates who shared their concerns on climate change.

School officials declined to give the names of the students or allow students to speak directly to reporters due to privacy concerns.

Aubrey H. Peterson, a social worker at the school and adviser to the club, said the students had been working on this demonstration since the beginning of the school year. While they conducted a similar walkout in March, Peterson said school officials were “very receptive” in letting the students stage Friday’s walkout to let their voices be heard on climate change.

“I know that we have several very passionate kids, and I hope they will find something to do with the energy that has been built. From my perspective, it’s great that these kids are taking advantage of these opportunities. They’re taking ahold of it and they’re doing something about it, which is great,” Peterson said.

Dana Sober of Springs and Debra Foster of East Hampton, adults who came to support the students, said it touched them that young adults cared about their planet enough to miss a school period. 

“It’s their future. They are committed, they’re willing to cut school because they see they have no choice. The changes to the climate are very frightening, but we won’t live long enough to see the effects of it. They will,” Sober said.

Hilary Cantu and Alex Yader, who were visiting from Wyoming, attended the walkout because it was closer than a climate change event in Manhattan. However, Cantu said she was glad that youths were getting involved with the environment.

“It makes me feel great. I think we should all be worried about it,” Cantu said. “These kids seem really educated, and if each community banded together to have these groups … maybe that would make a change just in this community. If every community did that, there would be big change.”

About a half dozen students from Sayville High spent the last hour of their school day in front of Islip Town Hall advocating for a cleaner Earth.

One student said it makes her upset that people all over the globe continue to pollute oceans and landfills by discarding nonbiodegradable materials like plastics, Styrofoam, and microplastics. 

“The way our Earth is going right now, it doesn’t seem like we’ll be able to sustain our population for a long time,” said Joanna Ziegler, 17, a senior from Sayville. “Our generation has more of a panic to do something, but we’re not in power to do so.”

Some students were joined by their parents and other adults who expressed concern for the environment and held up protest signs that read: "Act Now or Swim Later" and "No Planet, No Future."

“I can see the damage that climate change is having,” said Sayville High senior Samantha Kohn, 17, noting the glaciers melting in Antarctica and the fires in the Amazon rainforest. “It’s occurring right in front of our faces so it’s very important to have climate change legislation passed.”

Students said the first steps to helping reverse climate change are closing coal-powered plants, eliminating gas-powered vehicles, and ramping up renewable energy sources like wind and solar.

Sayville High junior Amelie Teske, 16, also said, to help the environment, people should recycle more often and use bicycles whenever possible. Otherwise, “in 10 to 20 years, it’s going to be too late, so we have to act now,” she said.

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