WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — As a summer fraught with historic wildfires, record-breaking floods and high levels of air pollution draws to a hotter than normal close, thousands of young people, including Greta Thunberg, rallied in spots around the world to demand leaders take action about climate change on Friday.
And in West Lafayette, a statewide coalition of students determined to have state legislators take action held a climate strike, and announced legislation addressing climate change that they hope to move through the statehouse next session.
"I think one of the biggest thing of our campaign is we are entirely run by students. But just in this one year, we've grown so much and we've actually accomplished a lot already," Chenyao Liu, 16, said.
Confront the Climate Crisis is a statewide, grassroots coalition of students campaigning for climate action in Indiana.
⬇️ INTERVIEW, CHENYAO LIU ⬇️
Over the past year, they have worked in tandem with state representatives to craft a piece of legislation which aims, in part, to get the climate crisis declared an emergency and set state standards to eliminate environmental racism.
On Friday, those plans were officially announced. Senator Ron Alting (R) of District 22 said he will introduce two pieces of climate legislation into Indiana’s 2022 Legislative Session.
"Senator Alting has given us most of the freedom in drafting the bill. So the legislation has really mainly been written by a group of high schoolers," Liu said. "I think there's a difference between having these climate strikes, having these marches in front of the state house, tell them what we want to hear. Then actually getting to sit down with them in a room and having to talk to them, not just yelling outside the statehouse hoping they hear us."
The first piece of legislation will be a resolution to acknowledge the problem of climate change.
"It will give scientific background about the climate crisis, and other environmental injustices in Indiana, and also address the economic development that Indiana can achieve through climate action," a statement from Confront the Climate Change said.
Senator Alting’s second piece of legislation will be a bill that would create a Climate and Environmental Justice Task Force by May of 2022.
That task force would include researchers, legislators, climate activists and farmers, who would be required to submit a report of climate policy recommendations to the Indiana General Assembly by November 2022.
Confront the Climate Crisis worked with several Indiana lawmakers overall several months, who helped the students refine and tweak the draft.
"It's been quite a good experience, because it's not something you learn in high school, how to write a bill. I think we are very proud of what we've written," Liu said.
The strike on Friday, which began at West Lafayette Junior-Senior High School and wound through town to the John Myers Pedestrian Bridge, is the culmination of hard work from a group of people new research said is most affected by climate change.
In September, a landmark study concluded teenagers are at huge risk for eco-anxiety. The survey asked 10,000 young people in 10 countries how they felt about climate change, and their government's responses to it. The results found most respondents were concerned about climate change - 60% saying they felt ‘very worried’ or ‘extremely worried’.
Overall, 45% of participants said their feelings about climate change impacted their daily lives.
"I think that's also why the smaller stuff at local levels, a lot of students like to volunteer for those things, because it's direct action you can take. While it's not necessarily fighting the global problem of climate change, it's taking these smaller steps, you can start to relieve your anxiousness and start to look forward to what is the root of the problem, and how we can solve it," Liu said.
Liu said while that anxiety is difficult to work through it has partly propelled this group to action.
"Climate change is an issue that's hard to perceive if you're really focused on the present. But as students who are always looking to the future, like college and well beyond that, I think it's a very worrying issue. I think a lot of people who get involved start getting involved because they're anxious about the climate crisis," Liu said.
Liu hopes the legislation will move lawmakers to think, as students in the coalition have for so long, about ways to find solutions to the climate crisis.
"What our legislation is hoping to do is that, get Indiana leaders to realize climate change is an issue. And as it is an issue, they'll take steps to mitigate it," Liu said.