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Teen climate activist Greta Thunberg joining Iowa City strike Friday

Iowa City students have forced action from City Council, school board on climate change

Sixteen year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg listens to speakers during a climate change demonstration at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., September 18, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
Sixteen year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg listens to speakers during a climate change demonstration at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., September 18, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
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Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager behind a global movement demanding action on climate change, announced Wednesday she will take part in a protest set for Friday in Iowa City.

Thunberg, who last week addressed the United Nations, will join a local movement started by two 13-year-old boys.

After first walking out of school in March, their stand has forced action from the Iowa City school board and the Iowa City Council — and now has turned its focus to the University of Iowa.

The latest:Iowa City will have road closures, bus detours for Thunberg's visit

Thunberg, students and other activists plan to march at noon Friday in protest of coal burning at the university.

Massimo Paciotti-Biggers previously told The Gazette he started walking out of classes at South East Junior High to draw attention to a lack of action to reduce carbon emissions in Iowa City and to urge his school district to make changes.

About 30 students joined him the first day he protested, coinciding with thousands of students globally who left their schools to demand climate change action in a movement led by Thunberg.

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In the following months, the Iowa City protests grew into a weekly demonstration for Massimo and other students and community members, and pushed the Iowa City school board to pass a climate resolution this summer.

The resolution, in part, called on the district to develop climate literacy curriculum, develop greenhouse gas emission reduction goals and use sustainable agriculture practices in menu planning.

The City Council, too, has approved a resolution declaring a climate crisis. On Aug. 7, members tasked city staff with providing recommendations to reduce carbon emissions in 100 days — for a city where two entities, MidAmerican Energy and the UI, account for about 57 percent of carbon emissions.

“We need (the UI) to join the IC climate plan, to make it work,” Massimo said Tuesday, in a message sent between classes. “The first step is to stop burning coal at the power plant, which is one of the worst single contributors to CO2 emissions.”

The Iowa City students have received support from other grass roots political groups, including 100 Grannies and the UI student group Young Democratic Socialists of America.

UI President Bruce Harreld in 2017, noting the institution’s increasing use of biomass, committed to a coal-free campus by 2025. But activists worry that is too late.

“We can’t expect the University of Iowa and Iowa City to work as two separate entities,” said UI sophomore Maddie Patterson. “They’re so closely tied together. We have to work together or we won’t change anything.”

100 Grannies co-Founder Ann Christenson said her organization, which began in 2012 to fight for the elimination of fossil fuels, has stood by Massimo and other students since they were lobbying the Iowa City district.

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“The junior high kids know what they’re doing, know what the issue is, and we have to be there for them,” Christenson said. “They’re the people we’re working for — it’s too late for us old people. Actually, it’s their kids we’re working for. I just hope it’s not too late.”

Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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