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‘Unite behind the science,’ Greta Thunberg tells 1,200 at Charlotte climate strike 

Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who leads a global movement of school-skipping youth demanding action on climate change, brought her blunt message to Charlotte on Friday.

Thunberg, 16, spoke at a student-led “climate strike” Friday outside the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center, turning what has been a weekly vigil by a Charlotte teen into an exuberant gathering of more than 1,000.

Inspired by Thunberg, Myers Park High student Mary Ellis Stevens, 14, has held her own calls to action outside the government center every week since February. On Friday they both gave voice to a generation that they say will live with climate change’s impacts.

Before her renown, Thunberg was a 15-year-old school girl sitting outside Sweden’s parliament to sway lawmakers. By this year she had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and in September delivered a stern rebuke to world leaders at the United Nations: “How dare you?” she demanded.

In Charlotte, a crowd began gathering outside the government center Friday well in advance of the event’s noon start, growing to what police estimated to be up to 1,200 people by 1 p.m.

“When I started striking I was convinced I was going to be alone forever, so this is really special,” Mary Ellis told the crowd. “When I became lonely, I imagined the streets filled with strikers — and look at what we have today.”

She called inaction on climate change a “betrayal” of younger generations. She asked: “How will we look our grandchildren in the eyes?”

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Thunberg took the stage to chants of “Greta! Greta! Greta!”

“For well over a year young people have been striking from school every Friday, demanding our leaders take responsibility and to unite behind the science,” she said.

“The people in power have not yet done that. They continue to ignore us and the current, best-available science. So we have no choice but to go on as long as it takes.”

Thunberg said in her six-minute talk that she found little hope in politicians and corporations when “humanity is standing at a crossroads.”

“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,” she said.

“We want to be able to say we did everything we could to push the world in the right direction. We have something just as powerful, our voices, and we need to use them... This is our future and we will not let it be taken away from us.”

Denise Eller and her granddaughter, Gracey Eller, 10, drove 180 miles from Clarkesville, Ga., for the event. Denise Eller said she follows Thunberg like a groupie. “She is like my hero of the world,“ Eller said.

Added Gracey: “It matters to me because I want a future for me and my kids.”

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Denise Eller and her granddaughter, Gracey Eller, 10, drove 180 miles from Clarkesville, Ga., to hear teen climate activist Greta Thunberg speak in Charlotte on Friday. Catherine Muccigrosso cmuccigrosso@charlotteobserver.com

Providence High student Kate Lewin, 17, said she’s been climate striking for a few months.

“We’re on track to an irreversible chain of events,” Lewin said. “I was sad about it until I heard about Greta, and with people listening we can make a change. We can’t vote, but we can petition government. They need to think more for their kids and grandkids instead of just the money.”

Americans’ views on global warming have held steady since 2017, poll firm Gallup reported in March, with 66% saying that it is caused by human activities such as burning oil and coal fuels. But only 45% of those polled believe it will pose a serious threat in their lifetime.

The issue has also become a partisan divide, with most Democrats worried about climate change and most Republicans not, Gallup says. President Donald Trump has called climate change a “hoax,” and this week notified the U.N. that the United States will withdraw from the Paris Agreement in which 200 nations have pledged to cut greenhouse emissions.

Fossil fuel, climate concerns

Charlotte City Council member Dimple Ajmera told Friday’s gathering that climate change isn’t a partisan issue. City council passed a climate resolution last year, and Ajmera said the city is exploring a private partnership for solar energy to further reduce emissions.

“I want you to hold us accountable and to make sure we deliver on our responses,” Ajmera said. Council members Larken Egleston and Braxton Winston also attended the event.

A string of speakers, as young as 8, took the stage before Thunberg appeared. Others in the crowd added their voices.

Twelve-year-old siblings Cannon and Fallon Hoy, who attend the Davidson Green School, decided Thursday night to attend Friday’s strike. Fallon said she wants elected officials to listen to science — and support activists like Thunberg.

“Some of them don’t believe (climate change), but if they don’t believe it, we can’t stop it or slow it down,” she said.

Added Kendall Esque, 15, a sophomore at the Community School of Davidson: “I still need to get an education, even though people who are educated aren’t even listening.” Kendall said she wants Charlotte-based Duke Energy to transition away from fossil fuels.

Friends Donald Shelton and Emily Broadway, both 17 and seniors at Burns High School in Lawndale, skipped school to drive the hour to Charlotte because they said climate change is so important.

“There has to be a certain amount of rebellion or the government will keep shutting us down,” Shelton said.

Broadway said the friends have participated in other activism like March for our Lives against gun violence, but Thunberg’s appearance spurred them to make the drive to Charlotte. “We do as much as we can to show that there needs to be change,” she said.

Climate change in North Carolina

The state has warmed one-half degree to one degree in the past century. The Southeast region has warmed less than most of the nation, but warming has accelerated in the past 40 years.

Sea level has risen more than a foot on the N.C. coast over the past century. It is rising about one inch every decade, but higher in parts of the coast where land is sinking. Rising seas erode beaches and worsen coastal flooding.

Tropical storms and hurricanes have become more intense over the past 20 years. It’s unclear whether that is a long-term trend, but hurricane wind speeds and rainfall rates are expected to increase as the climate warms.

Rainfall is becoming more intense in some parts of the Southeast, but droughts in the region have also increased by about 10% in the past 40 years.

By 2100, most of the state is likely to see temperatures above 95 degrees on 20 to 40 days a year. That’s compared to about 10 days now.

Sources: Environmental Protection Agency; N.C. Climate Office

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