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Crowds of children jammed the streets of major cities Friday in a global show of force to demand action on climate change, with many young people skipping school in protest and sharing a unified message aimed at world leaders.
"No matter how many times they try to ignore the issue, you can see every teenager in the area is here," said Isha Venturi, a 15-year-old high school sophomore from New Jersey who was in New York's lower Manhattan for the "Global Climate Strike."
"We're not quiet anymore, and change is coming," added Venturi, who was joined by her parents.
In New York, the day was punctuated by children-led marches, dance circles and handmade signs that read, "If the world was cool we would be in school." Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, who started the climate strike movement as a weekly demonstration in August 2018, addressed demonstrators in Manhattan later Friday. Organizers estimated about 100,000 people were in attendance.
“We are united by the science and we will do everything in our power to stop this crisis from getting worse, even if that means skipping school or work because this is more important,” Thunberg said. “Why should we study for a future that is being taken away from us? That is being stolen for profit.”
“And if you belong to that small group of people who feel threatened by us then we have some very bad news for you because this is only the beginning," she also said.
From New York to London and San Francisco to Sydney, Australia, children stood with other groups taking part in the strikes, including trade unions, environmental advocates and employees at large tech companies such as Amazon and Google. And their demands were similar: reduce the use of fossil fuels to try to halt climate change.
"As leaders, we've failed them," Halima Adan, 36, of Somalia, said amid the large number of young people in New York, where the city's 1.1 million public school students were told they could skip classes to attend the protests.
Adan, who was in the city for the Peoples' Summit on Climate, organized by the United Nations Human Rights Office and others, said her own war-torn African nation has felt the effects of "every aspect of climate crisis."
In a day of coordinated global action, when millions were expected to protest:
- Australia saw some of the first protests kick off Friday morning with organizers estimating that upward of 300,000 students and workers filled the streets of Melbourne, Sydney and other cities in the largest demonstrations the country has seen in years.
- New Delhi, one of the world's most polluted cities, saw dozens of students and environmental activists chant "we want climate action," while hundreds marched in Thailand's capital of Bangkok before staging a "die-in" outside the Ministry of Natural Resources.
- In London, thousands of people from infants to grandparents blocked traffic outside the Houses of Parliament chanting "save our planet."
- Crowds gathered in European capitals, including Berlin and Warsaw, Poland, and African capitals such as Nairobi, Kenya, while organizers said there are some 800 events planned across the U.S.
"The climate crisis is an emergency — we want everyone to start acting like it. We demand climate justice for everyone," organizers said on one website dedicated to Friday's protests, adding that there was action planned in more than 150 countries.
A coalition of environmental groups, youth organizations and others using the hashtag #strikewithus have demanded passage of a "Green New Deal."
The latest worldwide demonstrations are timed to nearly coincide with Monday's U.N. Climate Summit in New York, where U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said he wants to see governments and businesses pledge to abandon fossil fuels.
"We are losing the fight against climate change," he said at a news conference on Wednesday, according to Reuters.
Writer Lavinia Richards, 41, said she decided to take the day off work to join the London march, and her son Ruben, 6, asked to tag along.
"I was pleased that he wants to do the right thing and he's standing up for what he believes in," she said. "If these children are brought up to be ethical and responsible, then maybe there is a chance.”
Ruben told NBC News that he wanted to strike in hopes of seeing Thunberg, his role model, and "to save the rainforest and all the tarantulas and the gorillas."
"Some people think there is going to be a sixth mass extinction, so we don't really want that to happen," said Rosa Cormcain, 9, with her group of friends carrying signs that read, "There is no planet b" and "Don't be a fossil fool."
Protesters blocked roads around London's Parliament, waving flags, beating drums, chanting and singing in the sunshine for hours. At 1 p.m. local time, strikers honked horns, rang bells, blew whistles and cheered in an effort to sound the alarm for climate change.
"If we don't take action now ... it won't be a certain amount of people who will suffer, it will be everyone on this planet," said Al Shadjareh, a 16-year-old activist.
Shadjareh and his peers point to warnings from scientists, including an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report from last year that forecasts severe consequences for the environment and human life if global temperatures rise more than 2.7 degrees.
More than 2,300 companies around the globe from a variety of industries, including law, tourism and technology, have joined the Not Business As Usual alliance and pledged to support their workers to strike with students on Friday.
Thousands of tech workers joined the protests in the middle of their workdays, showing a renewed level of political activism in Silicon Valley, where software engineers and other employees traditionally haven’t spoken up in public against their bosses.
Amazon Employees for Climate Justice said it expected more than 1,600 employees would walk off their job sites to protest what they called the company's lack of action in addressing the climate crisis.
On Thursday, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos offered a prebuttal to the strike, pledging that the retail giant would get 80 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2024, up from 40 percent now.
But marchers on Friday stopped in front of an Amazon Go retail store in San Francisco, where someone with a megaphone denounced the company's environmental and labor policies. Amazon locked the doors to the store, effectively shutting down the location temporarily.
Google Workers for Action on Climate said some 800 employees of the search engine company would join the strike, nearly a year after employees in Google offices around the world staged a walkout to protest the company's handling of sexual misconduct by senior executives.
In San Francisco, thousands of people gathered in front of United Nations Plaza, near the spot where the U.N. Charter was signed in 1945 to create the international body that's now a focal point of climate activism.
Young people dominated the rally. One small boy standing atop a newspaper rack held a sign recalling a children's rhyme: "The itsy bitsy spider will drown if you do nothing." Some came into the city with teachers or other climate activists.
They were eager to come, said Alexa Davidson, 27, a community center worker in nearby Marin County who came to the rally with a group of middle school and high school students.
"I heard from 25 people who said, 'Why would I go to school if the Earth is burning up?'" Davidson said, carrying a 3-foot-wide model of the planet with her.
Sophia Nowlen, 14, also from Marin County, said she came to the demonstration because people don't seem to care enough about what the planet is going to look like as her generation grows up. She held a sign saying, "It's only my future."
"It'll be a desert," she said, if governments don't act quickly. "We're going to lose all the animals and all the ecosystems if we don't fight now."