Students march through Santa Cruz in the name of climate change.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

‘Youth out in front’: Hundreds of students march through Santa Cruz for international climate action day

Students from Mission Hill Middle School, Santa Cruz High and UC Santa Cruz came together on Friday, along with veteran environmental activists, to speak out on behalf of taking climate change seriously and continuing the fight against fossil fuel dependency.

Climate action organizations from across the world staged walkouts Friday ahead of the United Nation’s 26th annual climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland. In Santa Cruz, the day of action was spearheaded by groups from Santa Cruz High School, Mission Hill Middle School and UC Santa Cruz.

The action started out at UCSC’s Quarry Plaza with a crowd of about 50 people, but by the time attendees had marched to Mission Hill and then Santa Cruz High, the crowd of students making its way through the city had grown to more than 400.

“I’m really pleased to see youth out in front, really bringing attention to the urgency of climate change and our need to act quickly,” said Tiffany Wise-West, sustainability and climate action manager for the City of Santa Cruz.

Students gathered across Santa Cruz on Friday.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

The event was a culmination of work by Santa Cruz High’s Coalition for Climate Justice, UCSC’s Green New Deal Coalition, Mission Hill’s climate change club, and the Santa Cruz Youth Climate Action Network. The clubs mainly organized within their own schools but stayed in communication with each other to stage the mass walkout.

The group began marching from Quarry Plaza toward Mission Hill at 12:30 pm. Students proceeded to Santa Cruz High, then converged at the Wells Fargo Bank on River Street around 2 p.m.

“Every single time I turn on the news there’s hurricanes, tornadoes, storms, fires — it’s every single day,” Mission Hill eighth-grader Layla Pasquin told the crowd outside Wells Fargo. “Sometimes it’s the highest recorded temperature on Earth ... that record is always being broken. How much longer can we ignore that? You cannot just put this onto the next generation anymore.”

By about 2:40 p.m. the crowd gathered at downtown Santa Cruz’s Lot 4, where it protested the development of a proposed parking garage and library hybrid targeted for the space that’s currently home to the farmers market.

Organizers focused on seven demands addressing the City of Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz City Schools, the California teachers union and UCSC. They emphasized the need for a carbon-free and fossil fuel-free future, urging the city to adopt a plan to cut 100% of its carbon emissions by 2030.

Organizer's Demands

1. The city of Santa Cruz implements a plan to reach zero carbon emissions by 2030

2. Santa Cruz City Schools implements a greenhouse gas inventory and climate action plan

3. Santa Cruz City School implements climate change curriculum

4. The city of Santa Cruz discontinues the building of a parking garage on the Downtown Farmers Market lot.

5. UCSC adopts the UC Green New Deal Coalition’s policy platform

6. California teachers retirement fund (CalSTRS) divests from fossil fuels

7. BIPOC centered in an equitable transition to a fossil-free future

In 2018, the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change put out a report stating that the world had 12 years left to curb climate change by eliminating carbon emissions or face climate catastrophe. Those attending Friday’s protest emphasized how quickly the clock is ticking on that time frame.

Currently, the city’s climate action plan follows California guidelines for the reduction of carbon emissions. The plan set out to reduce emissions 30% by 2020, with an 80% reduction by 2050. According to the city’s climate action progress update, the 2020 goal was achieved and the 2050 goal is on track.

UCSC Green New Deal Coalition’s communications manager, Bijan Ashtiani-Eisemann, said the city is responsible for implementing a viable climate action plan that will address the 2030 deadline outlined in the 2018 IPCC report.

“We hope they listen to the science, because according to the latest IPCC report, the world’s allowable carbon budget only lasts until the next seven years so we really only have seven years to make drastic changes,” he said. “We can’t wait until 2050 and the city council needs to recognize that.”

Wise-West told Lookout that a handful of organizers from Friday’s march are in communication with the city’s team and community members working to develop the Climate Action Plan 2030 through a process branded Resilient Together.

Wise-West said the city’s current major emission sources are transportation and buildings, at more than 40% each, waste at 15%, and wastewater treatment at 1%. The plan seeks to meet legislative targets and is considering a goal to eliminate carbon emissions in Santa Cruz by 2030.

Although not set in stone, Wise-West says funding for the plan’s implementation will be assessed in the last phase of the planning process and could come from state and federal grants, additional revenue sources and even philanthropy.

The plan is currently in its third of four phases before being presented to the Santa Cruz City Council in June 2022. If the council adopts the plan, it would supersede the current 2050 carbon emission reduction of 80%.

“This plan is going to set forth a vision and a pathway that will require the entire community’s participation to reach the goals that we set together in an equitable way,” said Wise-West.

Students let their message be heard.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Although not listed in their demands, organizers targeted Wells Fargo to highlight its investments in fossil fuels. According to a 2021 fossil fuel finance report, Wells Fargo was the world’s third-largest funder of fossil fuels over the five years following the adoption of the 2015 Paris Agreement. According to the report, the bank invested $223 billion into coal, oil and gas industries from 2016-20.

Sabine Fraley, a Santa Cruz High senior and organizer with the Coalition for Climate Justice, said it was important to show the connection between schools, the city and companies like Wells Fargo in order to effectively address climate change.

“We wanted to involve our school, Mission Hill, and UCSC to unite and to come together with also the elder members of our climate activism community to show Wells Fargo, Chase, Bank of America and our city school district that we are here and we’re not letting the bulls--- slide,” Fraley said.

Santa Cruz High staff attended the march in an effort to keep students safe, but those who walked out Friday afternoon were marked as absent from their classes. Staff said although the school didn’t authorize the walkout, it was aware a large number of students would make the choice to leave anyway.