‘Now or never’: San Diego students march for climate action for third year

San Diego-area students and other activists marched across the county on Friday as they renewed their call for bolder and faster government action to end the country’s reliance on fossil fuels and slow the pace of climate change.

Students from at least 15 high schools and colleges organized walkouts or protests, including UC San Diego, San Diego High, Westview High and Southwestern College, organizers said.

About 80 people marched through downtown from Waterfront Park to City Hall, chanting mantras like “Stop denying the Earth is dying” and holding signs like “Solution not pollution” and “It’s getting hotter than my imaginary boyfriend.” Students also held protests in downtown Chula Vista and on school campuses.

High school students protesting at Civic Center Plaza on Friday.

(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

San Diego students have organized these climate protests every year since 2019, when millions worldwide marched for climate action after inspiration from Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg. San Diego students held an online protest in 2020 because of COVID-19.

“With climate change itself, we’ve obviously seen it worsen in the last few years, and (we’re) seeing scorching heat and worsening hurricanes,” said Theo Martien, a senior at San Diego Unified’s Mount Everest Academy and a volunteer with Youth 4 Climate San Diego who helped organize Friday’s protests. “People are going to have to face the truth because it’s happening now, and so these strikes are even more important because now’s it’s kind of now or never.”

Local student leaders affiliated with 350, an organization that advocates globally for the end of fossil fuel production and consumption, organized Friday’s protests with the help of members of the local American Federation of Teachers, Democratic Socialists of America and student-run school environmental clubs.

San Diego students have three demands, Theo said.

First, they want President Joe Biden to declare a climate emergency and use his executive powers to ban crude oil exports, oil drilling and construction of fossil-fuel infrastructure projects. They want the state and federal governments to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy. And they want Gov. Gavin Newsom to stop issuing oil drilling permits and phase out all oil extraction.

Newsom has promised to do those things — just over the coming decades.

Newsom has said he is implementing plans to stop issuing new fracking permits by 2024, end the sale of new gasoline-powered cars by 2035 and phase out oil production by 2045. He also helped push through $15 billion last year for climate and environmental protection, including wildfire prevention, drought prevention and more.

Local student activists said they think California has made noteworthy progress on climate issues since they held their first large-scale protests three years ago, but there’s still more that needs to be done.

“If we don’t act quickly enough — and we’re not acting quickly enough right now — it will destroy our futures,” said Keala Minna-Choe, a junior at Canyon Crest Academy and board member with San Diego 350.

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