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Climate Activist Thunberg Leads Rally at United Nations to Demand Action on Global Warming

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg joined several hundred other young people Friday outside the United Nations to demand action

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Young climate activist Greta Thunberg, center, listens during a rally outside the United Nations in New York to demand action on global warming, Aug. 30, 2019. (M. Besheer/VOA) VOA

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg joined several hundred other young people Friday outside the United Nations to demand action on global warming.

To chants of “Greta! Greta!” the petite 16-year-old climate rock star made her way through a sea of young people, many of whom said they had drawn inspiration from her activism.

She rose to fame last year after she started skipping school on Fridays, leading strikes over the lack of action on climate change.

Greta arrived in New York on Wednesday, ahead of a Sept. 21 Youth Climate Summit at the United Nations, which she will address. Adult leaders will meet two days later to have a climate summit of their own.

 

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Youths gather Aug. 30, 3019, outside the United Nations in New York to demand action on global warming. (M. Besheer/VOA) VOA

She has said she will not fly because air travel leaves too big a carbon footprint, and she put her principles to the test, crossing the Atlantic in a zero-emissions, no-frills sailboat with her father and a small crew. The trip took two weeks and the seas were often rough.

On Friday, she looked tired and perhaps a bit overwhelmed by the large and enthusiastic crowd and the aggressive pack of photographers and reporters. She answered a few questions, but her comments were mostly inaudible because there was no sound system and she is not one to shout her message. But it did not dampen the enthusiasm of the many young people who had come to see her.

“We came today because we want to support Greta,” 12-year old Tilly told VOA. She had a sturdy grip on the hand of her 8-year old sister, Izzy. Tilly noted that her family recycles.

Olivia, 15, from Long Island, New York, came by commuter train with her friend Defna, also 15, to see Greta. Olivia said her school is very conservative and climate change is not a subject that gets much attention. She wants to change that.

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“We want to start being a voice for our school, because we have to, because no one else is,” Olivia said. “We don’t have any clubs about the environment. We don’t have anything. We are trying to start, we have to, because people need to know about it, because they think it’s not as bad as it is.”

This youth movement is angry at world leaders and adults who they think are not taking rising atmospheric temperatures, melting ice caps and greenhouse gas emissions seriously.

“They [adults] have to strike with us, definitely,” Defna said. “And people who do not believe in the issue have to come here and support the kids, because it is our future.”

Demonstrators carried signs that warned, “Protect the planet because your life depends on it,” “Our house is on fire,” and messages to the grownups that included, “Act now or we will!”

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A speaker addresses young climate activists outside the United Nations in New York, Aug. 30, 2019. The rally preceded a Sept. 21 Youth Climate Summit at the U.N.; adults will meet two days later for a climate summit of their own. (M. Besheer/VOA) VOA

Greta received an impromptu invitation to meet with the president of the U.N. General Assembly, María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés. She took two of the young New York activists with her, Alexandria Villasenor, 14 and Xiye Bastida, 17.

As they entered the U.N. building, Thunberg noted, “There is a lot of air conditioning.”

‘Tipping point’

In her meeting, she spoke of the upcoming summit.

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“I think this U.N. summit needs to be some kind of breaking point, tipping point, where people start to realize what is actually going on,” Thunberg said. “And, so we have high expectations in you, too, and all member states to deliver. And we are going to try to do our part to make sure that they have all eyes on them and they have put the pressure on them so they cannot continue to ignore it.”

Espinosa told VOA that she was impressed with Thunberg because of all that she has done and for “her commitment, strength and intelligence.”

She said they discussed how governments, the private sector, citizens and youth all have roles to play to change the tide of global warming.

Also Friday, a Brazilian delegation met with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House, “to thank [him] for his support during the crisis surrounding the fires in the Amazon rainforest.”

The meeting was not previously announced in the president’s daily schedule but was tweeted by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro late Thursday.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Minister of Foreign Affairs Ernesto Araújo downplayed the fires. “It’s basically on average of the last years, and Brazil is already controlling the fires,” he said.

More than 75,000 fires covering the Amazon region have been detected this year, with many of them coming this month. Experts have blamed farmers and ranchers for the fires, accusing them of setting them to clear lands for their operations.

About 60% of the Amazon region is in Brazil. The vast rainforest also extends into Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana.

At the Group of Seven summit in Biarritz, France, last weekend, French President Emmanuel Macron and Bolsonaro went head to head several times over the Amazon fires issue. (VOA)

Next Story

Here’s how a Small Stretch of Ocean Boosted a Conservation Movement

Know how a small stretch of ocean stirred a conservation movement

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Purple vase sponges are shown in this underwater photograph taken while scuba diving at Gray's Reef ocean. VOA

From the surface, these 22 square miles of water are unexceptional.But dip beneath the surface — go down 60 or 70 feet — and you’ll find a spectacular seascape. Sponges, barnacles and tube worms cover rocky ledges on the ocean floor, forming a “live bottom.”

Gray’s Reef is little more than a drop in the ocean 19 miles off the Georgia coast, but don’t confuse size for significance. In one of his last official acts, President Jimmy Carter declared the reef a national marine sanctuary at the urging of conservationists who said its abundance of life was unique and worth saving for future generations.

For nearly 40 years, the U.S. government has protected the reef, home to more than 200 species of fish and an amazing array of nearly 1,000 different kinds of invertebrates. Recreational fishing and diving are allowed, but commercial fishing and other kinds of exploitation are not.

And Gray’s Reef has served as a global inspiration. Following the lead of the U.S., other nations have designated similar sanctuaries and protected areas, which now cover about 6% of the world’s oceans — a bonanza for researchers but, more importantly, an important tool for safeguarding the seas.

Doubts remain about how much of the ocean they can truly save. Last year was the hottest on record for the planet’s oceans, and protected areas can’t slow the biggest source of that warming — increasing greenhouse gases. The federal government says more than 90% of the warming that has occurred on the planet over the past half-century has taken place in the ocean.

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A black sea bass swims along the reef in Gray’s Reef ocean. VOA

That has had dramatic effects in the waters that cover 70% of Earth’s surface. Scientists have tied the warming to the rise of sea levels, the disappearance of fish stocks and the bleaching of corals. The ocean also has become more acidic as humans have released higher concentrations of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and that jeopardizes valuable shellfish and the plankton that form the base of the food chain.

The supporters for the protected areas range from sustenance fishermen on the tiniest islands of the Pacific to researchers at the most elite institutions of academia.

“We’re not protecting these areas just for ourselves,” Roldan Munoz, a research fishery biologist with the U.S.’s National Marine Fisheries Service, says during a research trip to the reef, “they’re for our nation.”

On a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration expedition to Gray’s Reef, the federal research vessel Nancy Foster is packed with scientists conducting research on subjects ranging from whether invasive lionfish are present to how changing ocean conditions are affecting coral species.

Sanctuary research coordinator Kimberly Roberson and other scientists prepare to dive to collect data about what fish can be found in the area, while Craig Aumack, an assistant professor of biology at Georgia Southern University, peers through a microscope at algae.

Aumack notes that more types of seaweed and tropical species of fish are appearing on the reef as waters warm, like the odd-looking and colorful clown wrasse, a fish native to the Caribbean Sea that was found off the coast of Georgia this summer, most likely pushed hundreds of miles to the north by changing ocean temperatures.

The sanctuary is named after Milton “Sam” Gray, a biologist who studied it in the 1960s and identified it as an ecosystem worth saving — a reef not far from the U.S. coast that teemed with life, especially an “abundance of diversity of invertebrates,” Roberson notes.

Without that designation, the habitat could have vanished due to high-impact industries such as bottom-trawl commercial fishing, which are now prohibited there.

“In some ways, it’s a test of what a marine protected area can do for surrounding areas,” says Clark Alexander, director and professor at the University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography and a former member of the sanctuary’s advisory board. “It was sort of an ideal spot to preserve this kind of habitat and make it available for research and recreation.”

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Scad and red snapper swim past divers Alison Soss, Geospatial Analyst, and Kimberly Roberson, Research Coordinator for Gray’s Reef ocean. VOA

In the decades since Gray’s was established, large and more stringently protected zones have popped up all over the world.

Phoenix Island Protected Area, established in January 2008, covers more than 150,000 square miles off the tiny island republic of Kiribati and has been cited by scientists for bringing back species of fish in just over a decade. And an area nearly twice as large, the Rapa Nui Marine Protected Area, now surrounds Easter Island after its creation in 2018.

Former U.S. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama greatly expanded the U.S.’s protected areas. Bush created the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument off Hawaii and Obama extended it late in his presidency to a whopping 582,578 square miles.

Smaller protected areas, such as the 5,000-square-mile Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument off New England, created by Obama in 2016, also have been established.

Nine years ago, the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity agreed to the goal of protecting 10% of the world’s oceans by 2020. The UN said in 2017 that it was on its way to meeting that target and that protected areas “contribute substantial social, economic and environmental benefits to society” and “provide food security and livelihood security for some 300 million people.”

One commonly cited problem with the protected areas is the difficulty of enforcing rules that restrict commercial fishing and other intrusive industries from vast areas where few people ever venture, particularly in developing parts of the world where resources are limited.

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Cannonball jellyfish float in the water as scuba divers surface after diving at Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary. VOA

Creating new protected areas without reducing fishing quotas won’t save species, says Daniel Pauly, a professor of fisheries at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

And that is not a small issue, as some estimates say the number of fish in the ocean was reduced by half from 1970 to 2015, with warming oceans expected to add to that loss.

“Rebuilding will require not just new protected areas, but it will require quotas reduced,” Pauly says.

Many scientists believe protecting broad swaths of the ocean simply might not be enough.

Last year, a group of researchers led by University of North Carolina marine ecologist John Bruno published a pessimistic study of the effects of climate change on the world’s marine protected areas. Their findings: those areas will warm by nearly 5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, destroying species and marine life despite the existence of protections.

Bruno’s study reflects the reality of coral bleaching in places such as the Great Barrier Reef off Australia, which is heavily protected but still vulnerable to the impacts of a warming world.

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It’s a lesson that illustrates the legacy of Gray’s Reef: Protected areas can save pieces of the ocean from extinction, but they can’t save it all.

“If it was up to me, we’d protect about 30% of the ocean,” Bruno says. “We’re just saying we’ve got to directly address climate change with emission reduction. There’s no way around it.” (VOA)