The First Friday event in September was wetter than those in the past with lightning and thunder streaking and booming across the sky. But not everyone who was looking up for a peek at the weather saw clouds in their view.
A group of Missoula high school and University of Montana students staged a die-in in front of First Montana Bank where an image of a countdown with ticking numbers was projected onto the Higgins Street side of the building. Above the numbers the hashtag “#mslaclimatestrike” was projected. The ticking numbers were counting down the days until the Earth reaches +1.5°C of warming above pre-industrial levels. According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2018 report, the 1.5°C of increased warming is a general marker where, moving past it, we are more likely to see increased environmental devastation. This includes heatwaves and rising sea levels that will lead to further displacement and poverty in addition to the continued bleaching and death of coral reefs which support the highest amount of biodiversity on the planet. The IPCC report also includes warnings about increased amounts non-arable land, more crop failings, and other ecological and societal breakdowns. The report indicates that humans must cut fossil fuel usage in half by 2030 to avoid 1.5°C of increased warming.
Below the projected climate countdown clock, eight young people laid on the ground facing upwards towards the rain. At their heads stood cardboard-crafted tombstones that included messages such as “Killed by Capitalism,” ”Killed by corporate greed,” and “Death by dirty cheap energy” drawn onto them. “When the students laid down the people walking by and talking became very somber,” one observer reported. Some passersby stopped to read the epitaphs written on the students’ tombstones and to watch the numbers tick down on the climate clock projected onto the building in front of where the students laid.
Sarah Sriraman, a UM student helping to organize other students, said this demonstration was put on to spread awareness for a global strike that Missoula students from Missoula-area high schools and the UM will be participating in. They call their group Missoula Climate Strike. “Students were dying in tonight to make a statement about the ridiculousness of our collective human behavior in the face of the climate crisis,” Sriraman said. “This is preventable, but the headstones explain what the outcome will be if we continue along a path of inaction and adherence to the status quo in a capitalist system.”
Sriraman said Missoula Climate Strike is inspired by Global Climate Strike which coincides with the United Nations Climate Summit 2019. Global Climate Strike grew out of Friday’s for Future which was started by a 16-year old Swedish student named Greta Thunberg. Thunberg has been leaving school every Friday for over a year, protesting inaction on the climate crisis in front of Swedish Parliament. Since then over a million students across the European Union, South America, some parts of the United States, and around the world have joined in her weekly Friday strike. Thunberg, who has eschewed air travel, arrived in New York City on August 28th after traveling for 15 days from Plymouth, UK on a sailboat. She will be attending the UN Summit.
The students have done at least one demonstration before. The Montana Kaimin reported on an event by the same group at another well-attended downtown venue two weeks ago. Gemma Sladich, another UM student organizing with the group, said that the events are part of their promotion for the launch of a sustained strike starting on September 20th, the beginning of Global Climate Strike week. “From September 20th-27th we are going to have a week-long strike from school full of alternative education and action,” said Sladich. “The die-in was to demonstrate what will happen to us if we do not take action on climate change right now,” Sladich said. “We will be killed by inaction, dirty money, capitalism… the list goes on.”
After the Global Strike Week, the students said they will continue their strike one Friday a month, every month, until their demands are met. They are using their week of education as an ideological foundation for the creation of their demands.
A rally to kick off the strike and the week-long alternative education series is scheduled for Friday, September 20th at 10am at Caras Park.