ST. LOUIS — Hundreds of people took to the streets of downtown St. Louis to protest the failure of politicians and special interests to act despite mounting evidence of climate change’s accelerating and potentially devastating effect on life on the planet.    

The St. Louis demonstration, which started at City Hall, was part of the “Global Climate Strike,” a coordinated effort that drew hundreds of thousands to the streets of major cities worldwide.

Held just days before a United Nations climate summit of world leaders, the protests were largely led by students and young people — those mostly likely to see the dire predictions of scientists become reality during their lifetimes. 

“We will not stand by as our future is destroyed,” said Emilio Rosas Linhard, a 17-year-old senior at Clayton High School, after giving a speech to the crowd at City Hall. “This is what we care about. This is what we will fight for.”

While younger generations have the most at stake, attendees pointed out that everyone is affected by climate change, with its impacts already becoming obvious thanks to rising temperatures and amplified natural disasters — such as historic heat waves, wildfires and rain events.

“People sometimes feel that this a youth issue,” said Erbab Majeed, 36, of Webster Groves. “It’s not exclusive to any age or race.... This is a species issue.”

Majeed said that political leadership is needed to drive meaningful change, noting that “piecemeal individual efforts” and lifestyle changes cannot match the scale or urgency of action demanded by climate science.

“There’s so much that needs to happen on a policy level,” he said. “This isn’t a bottom-up problem, it’s a top-down problem.”

Holding a sign that read, “Denial is NOT a policy,” Majeed said that he and his wife, Aamna Anwer, are both involved with sustainability efforts through their mosque and made it a personal point to attend the climate rally.

“We have a 3-year-old daughter,” added Anwer. “We want her to grow up in a world where she can see snow, and see seasons, and enjoy living.”

Despite the gravity of current climate science warnings, many advocates for climate action — including those at Friday’s event — emphasize that the future does not necessarily have to be characterized by gloom. But the quality of those forthcoming climate scenarios hinges on the level of carbon emissions made today and moving forward, since each additional bit of atmospheric carbon means more future warming gets locked in.

The St. Louis climate strike did not lack for symbolism, or for its potential to confront regional politicians and carbon-intensive corporations with a call for drastic change. For instance, the event’s march went directly past the global headquarters for Peabody Energy — the world’s largest private-sector coal company — while major agribusiness companies also call the St. Louis area home.

And on the state level, Missouri generates more than 70% of its electricity from coal — the most carbon-heavy fuel source — and burns more of the material than any state except Texas and Indiana, according to government data. Climate denial — or at least dismissiveness — is rampant among key leaders of the state’s Republican-controlled government, including members of House and Senate committees on utilities and energy.

But some of Friday’s attendees expressed satisfaction that the public conversation is shifting from basic education about climate change to recognition of obstacles. That includes identifying political and economic sources of what some call “predatory delay” — defined as “the blocking or slowing of needed change, in order to make money off unsustainable, unjust systems in the meantime,” according to Alex Steffen, a writer focused on climate change.

“I think we’re getting past the educational first step,” said Bret Gustafson, a professor at Washington University who teaches courses about the politics that connect energy issues, the fossil fuel industry, and climate change.

“Especially in Missouri, we’ve got a lot of work to do. ... Ameren has talked about its recent projects, but they’re really small compared to what we need to be doing,” Gustafson added, referencing the St. Louis-based energy monopoly that generates about two-thirds of its electricity from coal. The company is adding renewable energy through a goal to reduce carbon emissions 80% by 2050, compared to 2005 levels. Ameren has said it is open to surpassing that goal — something that would be necessary to keep pace with reductions called for by the latest climate science reports.

But while there is ample room for change locally and across Missouri, protesters have their eye on the global scale of the crisis, and the sweeping need for solutions.

“I do want Missouri to change, but I want the whole world to change, as well,” said Rosas Linhard. “I know that’s a lot to say, but this really is a global problem.”

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