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One Year After He Led Pasadena Climate Strike, Student Activist Sees Little Environmental Progress

Published on Sunday, September 20, 2020 | 4:15 pm
Ozzy Simpson

A year after hundreds of Sequoyah School students marched on Pasadena City Hall to demand environmental reform as part of last year’s nation-wide “Climate Strike,” the then-editor of the school’s newspaper said it doesn’t seem the collective voices of millions who spoke up that day have been heard by political leaders, as California endures one of its worst fire seasons on record.

The size and energy of the crowd were impressive on Sept. 20 last year, said Ozzy Simpson, who has since graduated from Sequoyah.

“We had over 500 people participate in the strike, and I’d estimate around two-thirds were students. I walked to City Hall from Sequoyah that day, and when I turned the corner I was actually surprised at how large the crowd was around noon,” he said. “I remember feeling hopeful that the strike could actually kick off some change in Pasadena, and around the country [and] world with the other strikes happening.”

But looking at the climate, both physically and politically, in 2020, Simpson said the momentum seen last September has yet to result in real change.

A “New Green Deal” Pledge circulated by activists was signed by four then-candidates for the City Council, including council member-elect Felicia Williams.

“I actually largely do feel that our efforts and the people we mobilized last September went unnoticed,” he said. “Vice Mayor Hampton spoke at the strike, with calls for us to do more, but that has yet to materialize.”

“We organized a few actions at City Council meetings following that, asking the City to declare a climate emergency, asking them to sign on to that pledge, and more, but nothing happened as a result of those actions,” Simpson said. “I am deeply disappointed in our city’s leadership for failing my generation and worsening and ignoring the climate crisis in their decisions. While they love to shift the blame to the county, state, and federal government, some of the responsibility does lie in their hands, and they shouldn’t forget that.”

Globally, signs of a climate in distress have only gotten worse over the past year, he said.

“A preventable pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of people in this country; some of the worst climate fires we’ve ever seen all across the West Coast, with smoke from them traveling to Canada, Hawaii and the East Coast; deadly, record-setting heat waves; and more,” Simpson said. “However, I want to be clear that nothing has changed that made these things happen now. These are all events that could have materialized at any recent point due to the inaction and ignorance of our elected officials and fossil fuel CEOs.”

But Simpson, who is currently volunteering with the Sunrise Movement, an organization dedicated to fighting climate change, said he hasn’t given up.

“The current situation has further highlighted the need for action,” he said. “We can’t sit by and let the greed of fossil fuel CEOs dictate our response to the climate crisis. We need to take action now to even attempt to mitigate future destruction and lost lives, and that can and should start at the local level.”

He encouraged other young people to join the cause as well.

Twenty-five “major wildfires” continued burning in California on Tuesday, Cal Fire said in a written statement. More than 16,600 firefighters were battling them.

“Since the beginning of the year, wildfires have burned over 3.2 million acres in California,” according to the Calfire statement. “Since August 15, when California’s fire activity elevated, there have been 25 fatalities and over 4,200 structures destroyed.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom and other state officials have laid the blame for the large number, and severity, of wildfires on climate change.

During a visit to the state on Monday, President Donald Trump dismissed the notion, the Associated Press reported.

California Natural Resources Agency Secretary Wade Crowfoot urged Trump to recognize the impact of climate change on California’s forests, according to the AP. “If we ignore that science and sort of put our head in the sand and think it’s all about vegetation management, we’re not going to succeed together protecting Californians,” he said.

Trump replied, “It will start getting cooler, just you watch,” the AP said.

When Crowfoot reportedly said the science did not align with the president’s viewpoint, Trump responded, “I don’t think science knows, actually.”

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