Senior Dina Gorelik rode her bike, as usual, to the campus green of Newton North High School early Friday morning. A co-organizer of the climate strike for her school, the high school senior didn’t get much sleep the night before. She’d struggled to close her eyes anticipating the day ahead.
Along with thousands of people in cities across the globe — from London to Sydney to Boston, where the students were headed — 17-year-old Gorelik and Maggie Needham, founder of North’s newly formed Climate Advocacy Club, had organized the march to unite their peers around a singular focus: fighting for a future.
“The issue with climate change is that I don’t know how far in the future I can plan or look forward to,” Gorelik said. “The future of my generation is a big unknown right now, but the fact that there is this huge national and international movement to do something about it is really inspiring.”
Gorelik carried a sign nearly the same size as her petite frame, reading, “We demand climate action now,” and was flanked by peers with their own homemade posters. As more students trickled in, their numbers eventually grew to around 50 protesters, with some community members joining their ranks.
The demands of the youth were not small. The students from Newton and elsewhere around the world called for urgent and systemic change from their leaders, having moved on from the belief that individual actions like “turning off your lights and using a reusable water bottle” are enough to stem the impacts of climate change, from extreme weather events to rising sea levels, Gorelik said.
“We need to move away from fossil fuels, and we need to move to renewable energy,” said Gorelik, who bikes daily to cut back on her own carbon emissions contribution. “We need to be ready to redesign or reconfigure our life, so that we can eliminate waste, and we can eliminate carbon emissions.”
Though the day of protest did not qualify as an excused absence for those from Newton, Superintendent David Fleishman said in a statement that the administration supports “students’ participation in our democracy and respect[s] their right to express their opinions and to take action.”
Before heading to Boston City Hall, where thousands of young climate strikers awaited them, the Newton North students wanted to visit Newton City Hall first. Gorelik said the plan was to open dialogue with city representatives, a group of six councilors with green initiatives and goals for the city.
The activists left school grounds toting signs that ranged from the humorous (“Kim, there’s people dying,” referring to Kim Kardashian) to the more politically charged (“You’ll die of old age, we’ll die of climate change”). Along the way, the activists at times interrupted traffic and intermittently chanted, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, climate change has got to go!” and the call and response, “What do we want? Climate action! When do we want it? Now!”
Drivers honked their horns in support, some flashing grins and thumbs-ups, while pedestrians lined the route, cheering the group.
Gorelik, along with junior Coral Lin, who was representing Newton North’s Next Gen Voices, took to the steps of City Hall to deliver a message to their peers and city leaders.
In her speech, Gorelik cited record-setting temperatures reached this summer as evidence of the need for urgent action and applauded the city for initiatives such as Newton Power Choice, which allows residents to choose 100 percent green energy, and the new Climate Action Plan,” which aims to achieve full carbon neutrality.
But, she said, even in light of Newton’s commitment to sustainability, residents “still face setbacks” and will have to prepare themselves to make changes in the years to come.
“Newton North, for example, has experienced enormous difficulty in recycling,” Gorelik said. “Our city is designed for cars as a primary mode of transportation, making areas like Washington Street a nightmare for cyclists and pedestrians.”
The city representatives who spoke included councilors Deborah Crossley, Andrea Kelley, Susan Albright, Alison Leary, Rebecca Walker Grossman, and Emily Norton, as well as Claire Rundelli, an environmental planner. Mayor Ruthanne Fuller was unable to attend the gathering because she was speaking on a panel about climate change at the time, a city official said.
Crossley, who grew up during the Vietnam Era, said she sees parallels in Generation Z — those born from 1997 onward — and those of her own. She lauded the youth for using their voices to make a difference.
“Vietnam is where my friends went to die — and we all felt it,” Crossley said. “The only reason we were able to stop that war is due to protest. The young voices, taking their young voices home, is what’s going to make a change.”
Climate change “is a crisis,” Crossley said. She said the city is looking to implement an additional climate action plan — a five-year effort that would work to ensure Newton is reaching its sustainability and energy goals.
“We’re planning for the future,” she said. “We need more housing, people need shelter. … We need to concentrate on housing, smaller housing units, and more of them, where we already have transportation and other infrastructure to support that development.”
While the plan might not be adopted this year, Crossley said the city is not going to wait to put some of the proposed changes into place, “such as, where we can, raising the bar for building energy efficiency for private development.”
From Newton City Hall, the students proceeded to Newton Centre, where they boarded the Green Line to travel the remaining distance, packing several cars with their signs and bodies and almost falling over each other when the train left the station.
At first, Isalia McIntyre and Zoe Goldstein, both 17, said they questioned the decision to make the stop at City Hall at first, brushing off hearing about local action on combating climate change when they could be with others from around the state sooner, calling for change on a more national level.
“After hearing the speeches, we were thinking about how impactful it is actually to get involved, like in the Newton community on a smaller level,” Goldstein said. “The problem can feel really hard to address, which if we try to think about it not at the federal level, but from a local level, there are actually a lot of ways to get involved and make a change that can go upwards.”
There will be “rapid and far-reaching” consequences, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2018 special report, if global net human-caused carbon emissions do not fall by around 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030 — a major concern for the student protesters.
And Newton, one of the most well-endowed communities in the state, based on median household income figures from the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey from 2013-17, is in a position to take advantage of its resources to address the crisis, McIntyre said.
“Newton is in a position of power,” she said. “Overall, it’s a pretty affluent city, and that gives us the opportunity and it gives us the responsibility to address the climate crisis, even though it doesn’t affect our community as much as it affects other poorer communities.”
The day’s agenda, as organized by Massachusetts Climate Strike and other groups, included a rally featuring speakers such as former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy, and a march to the State House.
After the march, Gorelik and her friends were absorbed into the masses, joining the likes of those from other schools and grass-roots organizations.
“I’m a little overwhelmed,” Gorelik said, looking out to the sea of activists that had congregated around Boston City Hall. “But this is so awesome.”
Shannon Larson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.