Student climate activists and members of Sunrise Northampton High School gathered at NHS to demand President Joe Biden to declare a climate emergency.
Reminder Publishing photo by Ryan Feyre

NORTHAMPTON — As carbon pollution continues to raise global temperatures to dangerous levels, a cadre of Northampton High School students are taking matters into their own hands when it comes to fighting the world’s climate crisis.

A group of student activists from NHS gathered on the front steps of the high school on April 30 to join a countrywide movement demanding President Joe Biden to declare a climate emergency. The specific call-to-action at NHS was spearheaded by Sunrise NHS, which is an extension of the national youth-led climate justice organization called the Sunrise Movement.

“I am surprised that a national climate emergency has not yet been declared,” said NHS student River Burnell-Wojtech, who added that there were more than 200 actions across the country on Earth Day calling for Biden to declare the emergency. “Perhaps it does not feel like an emergency to people who can use their billions to save themselves from fires and droughts … but it feels like an emergency to me.

Burnell-Wojtech was one of many speakers during the NHS action who urged the president to officially make the declaration. Others who attended the event held yellow signs depicting phrases coined by the Sunrise Movement. Some read, “for the water we drink” while others said, “for the air we breathe” and “for the places we call home.”

“Our government is aware that the climate crisis is still happening, is still getting worse and they’re not doing anything,” said Cosmo Johnson, an NHS student and founder of Sunrise NHS. “And personally, I think that’s a form of oppression. I think that’s oppressing its people.”

Johnson founded Sunrise NHS in October to find a sense of community within this type of activism and help build climate resilience on a local level. The group is part of a wider national movement that encompasses many chapters and hubs across the country fighting for climate justice and the creation of millions of green jobs.
Currently, Johnson said Sunrise NHS is working with lawmakers on certain climate legislation in the near future, but specific information has not been released yet.

According to its website, the Sunrise Movement has made some significant strides on the climate justice front like pushing Biden and Congress to pass the Inflation Reduction Act in 2022, the largest climate bill in U.S. history. Recently, they have turned their focus to the Green New Deal while urging Biden to declare a climate emergency.

During their speech, Johnson noted that if Biden declared an emergency, experts say he can invoke the 1976 National Emergencies Act to make significant and immediate strides such as order the manufacturing of clean energy technology, deploy renewables on military bases or block crude oil exports.

“There are so many things that Biden can do within the span of one week after declaring a climate emergency that he’s not doing right now,” Johnson said.

For many speakers at the NHS event, the climate crisis is something they encounter in their own day-to-day lives, and it is a weight they have no choice but to carry. Kai Imperial-Jewett, a sophomore at NHS, said they have been attuned to the effects of climate change since they were little, even when others who were older ignored the warnings.

“I can feel the humidity prickling on my skin every summer, the ocean level rising with each heat wave;” Imperial-Jewett said. “I can smell the smoke of wildfires across the country and see the smog fill the air; I can hear the reports of droughts and floods and hurricanes sweeping the world every time the news comes on.
“Even now, I know the world was dying around me, and my generation would be the ones to carry the weight of the casket,” they continued.

Luna Burnell-Wojtech, another student of NHS, shared an anecdote about how they were told at 11 years old that the climate crisis would reach a tipping point in 11 years. Now 16, Burnell-Wojtech noted how they were sad and scared about how close that tipping point is now.

“I know this seems really scary, but there are ways to fix this,” they said. “I truly believe that if we knock down the broken system that has gotten us to where we are and build a new, more sustainable one in its place to create climate justice, that we can have a future.”

Readers can learn more about the Sunrise Movement by visiting the website: sunrisemovement.org/.

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