Both Santa Fe County and the City of Santa Fe passed resolutions this week urging world leaders to take more substantial action on climate change and restating local commitments to a just and sustainable transition.
The county resolution to "declare a climate emergency" and announce support of youth action passed with a unanimous vote from commissioners on Tuesday evening after emotional comments by students from the New Mexico School for the Arts and organizing members of Youth United For Climate Change Action (YUCCA).
YUCCA is the group organizing Santa Fe's youth climate strike scheduled for Friday, September 20, in coordination with strikes in capitals across the country.
"We are issuing a cry for help from the institutions of our society… and I am begging you to please answer," said Artemisio Romero y Carver, describing the terror he and a generation of young people experience at the prospect of having only a decade to turn climate change around before it is too late.
Yang, an NMSA student from the Navajo Reservation around Farmington who uses one name, spoke next.
“I have come to you to tell you how I have been affected by the desecration of the land for profit before I was born, ” she said, telling the commission about the impacts of coal and uranium mining in the Four Corners and of the day she came home to find the Animas river running mustard yellow with three million gallons of toxic waste spilled from the abandoned Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado, in 2015. The effects of this spill blighted the land and have left the river unsafe for swimming of fishing.
“My people have been systematically targeted in this corruption of unsafe and unjust economic development for the extraction of resources,” Yang told the commission, calling for “a transition to justice that requires frontline communities that have been affected by extractive fossil fuel epidemics” to be heard.
Commissioners voted unanimously to pass the resolution.
Santa Fe City Council then passed a similar resolution Wednesday, though not without debate and disagreement between councilors and two opposing votes from Councilors Mike Harris and JoAnne Vigil Coppler in opposition to amendments proposed by Mayor Alan Webber and Councilor Renee Villarreal to add language supporting a planned youth climate strike followed by a "week of disruption."
Whereas the county's resolution explicitly stated support for the youth climate strike and declared a climate emergency, the city's resolution "supporting the efforts of global citizens to pressure world leaders to address the effects of climate change" initially did not include explicit support of a student walkout, focusing instead on a comparison between the city's 25 year sustainability plan and the Green New Deal.
“What does disruption have to do with a just transition? And a week of disruption, how does this lead to a just transition? I don’t think that it does,” Councilor Mike Harris argued, raising concerns that by including this language, the city might unintentionally signal support for violent or destructive actions.
He also noted “otherwise I am in support of all of the other things” about the resolution.
Villarreal agreed to remove language about disruption, but noted that's still the point: "This is part of the global strike — to disrupt the system."
The argument cuts to the heart of a pressing debate around how society should respond to climate change: Can we stop or at the very least slow down the effects of climate change if we continue to pursue business as usual?
Yang, the young woman who spoke at the commission meeting Tuesday, doesn’t think so.
“We are in the midst of an emergency, a crisis. And I don’t think these kids have a choice to not cause disruption. We have no time to be calm and wait quietly for politicians to make votes and for corporations to go about their greedy ways as usual,” she says.
She addresses the issue with SFR the day following the City Council meeting when SFR arrives at NMSA to discuss an upcoming youth art exhibit about climate change titled In Crisis, to which Yang has contributed a piece. The exhibition is organized by Romero y Carver, the other young person who spoke at the commission meeting, and is one of many events that will take place in the week following the strike.
Disruption is something Yang has thought about in depth in the weeks leading up to the planned strike.
“History does not change by sitting around, but is made by the actions and the sacrifices of the ones being affected,” she muses. “We do not have a choice to sit around anymore. We have a choice to stand up and fight for our lives. So that’s why I think the youth are causing disruption.”
But disruption can take many forms, and for Yang, art is an important piece of the puzzle.
The youth exhibit, In Crisis, will feature art from youth across the state on the topic of climate injustice. The show will offer artists 100% of any profits from work sold and a $500 prize for best in show. The exhibit will continue to accept submissions until Monday, Sept. 16.
In coordination with strikes planned at capitals across the country, Santa Fe’s youth climate strike is set for on Friday, Sept. 20, from from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm at the Roundhouse.