On Nov. 7, 2019, Charlotte became the focal point of climate change discussion as Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old environmental activist known for her international advocacy, continued with her 62nd week of protest by headlining a climate strike at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center with many other prominent local activists including Charlotte local Mary Ellis Stevens. The event focused on the voices of the youth with the majority of the speakers’ ages ranging from 8 to 18. These young activists emphasized the importance of working towards a brighter future through joint efforts on a local level and holding elected officials accountable to the repercussions of climate change.
Climate Change in NC
According to the North Carolina Climate Office and the Environmental Protection Agency’s August 2016 report for North Carolina, the state has experienced measureable harm due to climate change. The state as a whole has warmed by one-half to one degree in the past century and has seen sea levels rise by more than 12 inches with an incremental annual rate of one inch. The state has also seen devastating storms within the last two years plow through the coast which have caused massive damage to the eastern half of the state. If proper measures are not taken to alter the trajectory of climate change, the state will continue to be hit by erratic, violent weather patterns.
Mary Ellis Stevens
Stevens is a freshman at Myers Park High School and has been protesting outside of the Charlotte Government Center for 34 straight Fridays since Feb. 22 demanding that attention be brought to the growing climate crisis around the world. Stevens began her journey with a school project on climate change inspired by Greta Thunberg’s speeches. Stevens was introduced as “Charlotte’s very own Greta Thunberg” and has organized several protests in the past that brought in hundreds of attendees and garnered the attention of local news organizations including the Charlotte Observer, Charlotte Agenda and WSOCTV. Her consistent activism caught Thunberg’s attention, who reached out to Stevens via Twitter. On Wednesday during Steven’s biology class, she responded stating, “Yes, that’d be great. Let’s do it.” This exchange led to an estimated 1,000 people from around the state to congregate for a single initiative.
Greta Thunberg was the main speaker for the event and helped attract a crowd of many young protestors. Her initiative of refusing to attend school on Sundays has taken her across the globe; however, the movement started with her alone sitting outside of the Swedish parliament. Her movement has not only landed her the opportunity to speak at the recent United Nations summit in New York, but also second place for the Nobel Peace prize of 2019. The 16-year-old has led a worldwide movement that is focused on youth activism which has seen peaceful protests in nearly every major city in every continent. Many of the young speakers echoed similar sentiments of disappointment with the current generation in power, the “boomers.” Thunberg encouraged the crowd to look towards the future by stating, “It is we young people who are the future, but there is not time for us to grow up and become the ones in charge, because we need to tackle the climate right now.” Thunberg's home-grown, grassroots movement has continued to inspire other local leaders like Mary Ellis in their fight to mitigate the effects of climate change within their own backyards.