A student-led rally and march through the streets of downtown Rochester on Friday joined demonstrations around the globe in demanding action on climate change.
The demonstration began with a cluster of lime-colored, vest-wearing students in the downtown Peace Plaza and, by the time the noon march along First Avenue Southwest got rolling en route to Rochester City Hall, it had grown into a body of about 200 people.
Their message: Action on climate change has to happen now.
As the sign-waving group snaked through the streets, cars and trucks beeped their horns in support, prompting the demonstrators to erupt in cheers.
Holding aloft signs that read, "We Need Climate Action" and "Stop Supporting Fossil Fuels," the demonstrators included Rochester students, parents and their children, Mayo Clinic employees, Franciscan sisters and gray-haired grandmothers. One elderly lady's sign said, "I'm marching for my grandchildren."
Salma Abdi, a 15-year-old Century High School student who helped organize the rally, said she was fighting for her future and those of her generation.
"It's our futures that are on the line," Abdi said. "I'm still in high school, and I want to go to college. I want to do something with my life, but I won't be able to with our world slowly dying."
The march through the streets echoed demonstrations in cities and capitals in the U.S. and other nations under the hashtag #ClimateAction. The mass movement was sparked by 16-year-old environmental activist Greta Thunberg, who got the movement going by orchestrating "Fridays for our Future" school walkouts for climate action.
"They're willing to put their grades at stake and disrupt the school day because climate change is disrupting their whole lives," said Rick Morris. a representative of the Rochester chapter of Sierra Club, about the student-led effort.
Last spring, an estimated 1.5 million people participated in the first international climate strike, including hundreds of Rochester students and thousands of Minneapolis students. Friday's strike sought to build on the momentum of that first walkout by inviting adults to join the march.
Andrew Yang, a Mayo Clinic Medical School student from Southern California, marched through the streets and then spoke on the steps of city hall. He said he was striking for his future patients.
"The link between climate change and health is so intimate," Yang said. "The World Health Organization has called climate change the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century. So this is a pressing issue that needs critical action."
Students are demanding that countries continue to take climate change seriously. They are also calling on the U.S. to adopt the Green New Deal, a proposal that aims to address climate change by massively investing in renewable energy and ending all new fossil-fuel development.
At the state level, the group called on Gov. Tim Walz to end reconstruction of the Enbridge Energy Line 3 crude oil pipeline across northern Minnesota.
Yang said his sense of urgency on the issue was recently activated by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change special report. It warned of the risk to the planet if average temperatures rise 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels.
"To say that we need to limit it to 1.5 degrees. Otherwise, we face irreversible climate change. That was a real motivating force for me," Yang said.
Yang said he is seeing signs that the world is catching on for the need for action, both internationally and locally.
Recent European Union parliamentary elections showed gains by the Greens. Energy and mobilization is building around the Green New Deal, he said. Locally, a poll showed that 80 percent of Rochester residents believe climate change is man-made.
"I do believe the conversation needle and the center of gravity of public opinion has changed," Yang said.