NJ students join in worldwide strike, press for immediate action on climate change

Teens from across New Jersey left college and high school classes Friday to march in solidarity with a protest in Madrid headlined by activist Greta Thunberg — together pressing world leaders for action on climate change, casting it as an immediate threat to the health of the planet and their futures.

Hundreds gathered in Newark for a march that stepped off from the Rutgers University campus — one of a number of climate-based protests across New Jersey, where young people joined in the worldwide “climate strike” called by Thurberg and others, pressing for an end to fossil fuels, and promoting clean air and water.

The marchers in Newark called on Gov. Phil Murphy to ban new pipelines and power plants, taking note of New Jersey as a state where global warming has direct images in rising ocean tides and storms.

“We need to hold our politicians accountable,” said Jordan Muhammad, a senior at Columbia High in Maplewood. “The problems haven’t been solved yet. So we’re going to keep striking, keep making noise and keep fighting until they are.”

In Madrid, thousands of protestors gathered to urge nations represented at a United Nations convention on climate change to support a provision of the landmark Paris Agreement that enables cooperation among nations to hit worldwide targets.

First offering a welcome in Spanish, Thunberg’s remarks stressed the urgency she and other advocates feel.

“We are in the middle of climate and ecological emergency, and we need to start treating this crisis like a crisis,” said the 16- year-old Swede, according to Associated Press video. “We need to step out of our comfort zones and that is what we are doing right now. We are stepping out of our comfort zones, telling the people in power that they must take the responsibility and protect future and present generations.”

Among the stops for the Newark protestors was the headquarters of NJ Transit, which is planning to build the TransitGrid system — a project that includes a natural gas-fueled power plant in Kearny that would allow much of its rail system to operate independent of the regional power system.

Earlier this fall, Murphy said that he was opposed to plans for a separate natural gas plant in the Meadowlands, after months of protests by environmentalists and others.

“Activism works. It’s our chant: ‘Activism works — see you on the streets,’” Muhammad said on Friday.

Among the protestors in Newark were the Diaz sisters, students at Lodi High School. Thunberg is an inspiration for both of them.

“She started a movement with over 4 million people at a climate strike, so that’s really a big inspiration for me,” said Alisha Diaz.

“I want to have a better future,” said Emily Diaz. “And when my time comes to have kids, I want them to have a better future, as well.”

Also on hand was Zoe Newman, a junior at Columbia High, who also gave voice to the urgency felt by the protestors.

“Our planet is on fire,” she said. “It’s a big issue. It’s frustrating to see people not hearing us, or hearing us and not taking action.”

The state Department of Education declined to offer a blanket excused absence to students who decided to walk out on strike, saying it’s up to the individual districts to make the call.

“So even if your parents said, ‘My student’s going to the strike’ it’s still an unexcused absence,” Muhammad said.

Activists from Rutgers called on the university to strengthen its climate justice policies, and divest from any investments in fossil fuel companies. A university spokesman said that request should go to its Board of Governors.

The protesters promised they’ll be back.

“The planet’s still on fire,” they chanted.