LIHUE — Hundreds of residents gathered at the Kauai Community College campus Friday afternoon, joining people all over the world for a day of global climate protests.
Young and old took to the streets to demand that their leaders address climate change, just days ahead of the United Nations Climate Action Summit on Monday.
“The numbers look good around the world,” said Anne Walton, one of the organizers, explaining that Kauai is in the world’s latest time zone, meaning the protest at KCC may have been the last in the day of worldwide protests.
“These are just the news blasts coming in,” Walton said. “Even places like Sao Paulo, Brazil, Cape Town, South Africa, so right now they think there’s over 150 countries participating.”
About four million people from thousands of cities and towns on all seven continents took part in Friday’s climate strike, according to a New York Times article Friday.
“Protest, man! Gotta save the planet!” Kasiah Vercelli said when asked what she was doing on the street corner with a cardboard sign painted with a flame-covered globe and the words, “IF WE BURN YOU BURN WITH US.”
“We don’t have another planet to live on,” she added. “Mars would not be fun.”
Vercelli, 17, went to the climate strike with her father, Jason Vercelli, a wildlife biologist who said his age was “old as dirt.”
Cher Ellwood, coordinator for the Kauai Performing Arts Center, stood nearby, holding a clipboard with a paper that read, “BUILD SOIL NOT HOTELS.” Ellwood said she joined the protesters at KCC because she believes in the fight against climate change and has been involved in environmental causes for decades.
“I’ve been pro-environment since the ’60s,” she said. “I caused all sorts of trouble in my day.”
“It’s too late to keep it from happening. It’s time to reverse it,” Ellwood said, explaining her view on climate change and the need to take action. “We can slowly reverse it, but we have to act now.”
A little boy covered from head to toe in hunting camouflage, stood next to his parents with a homemade wooden shield painted with the words, “PROTECT OUR EARTH.” He pulled off a camo hood covering his head and face to explain the outfit.
“What I’m trying to do,” said Sammy Pastore, “is, well — it’s kinda like a tree.”
Pastore, 10, who came down from Haena with his parents, Steve and Sari Pastore, said he originally planned to make a sign that said “I refuse to be a burning bush,” but chose to dress up as foliage instead.
“This is our earth, and we only have one chance,” he said.
Mark Baltazar, president of the KCC student body government, said he helped organize and coordinate the event because “it’s our earth. It’s our planet.”
The KCC chapter of the Associated Students of the University of Hawaii co-sponsored the event, alongside other local organizations.
“You know what, we gotta start somewhere,” Baltazar said. “It’s important because it’s our earth. It’s our planet, you know? We only have one.”
Baltazar spent the first 15 minutes of the protest picking up trash along the side of the road, joining a group of volunteers carrying orange bags up and down the stretch of Kaumualii Highway fronting the college, and said he has recently been trying harder to do his part in the fight to preserve the environment.
“For me, my thing is, I’ve been catching the bus, ” Baltazar said, explaining that, in order to help cut down on carbon emissions, he has started making use of the free, semester-long bus pass available to all KCC students. “I have my own car, but I need to practice what I preach.”
Dan Knudsen and his daughter Emilia drove down from Kapahi to join the protest. They sat on the grass, spinning matching rainbow-colored umbrellas, because, Knudsen said, “we didn’t have a sign, and rainbows are the most beautiful.”
The Knudsens were near the edge of the crowd lining the road, which had grown to at least a couple hundred people by 1:30 p.m. Drivers waiting at red lights honked their horns and passengers waved and screamed from the open windows of passing pickup trucks, sometimes shouting words of encouragement, sometimes just saying hello to an auntie they recognized among the protesters.
“I skipped school,” Emilia Knudsen said, smiling and twirling the umbrella on her shoulder. Her father had gotten permission from her teacher, who thought attending the climate strike was a great idea. The wind pushed fat clouds across the sky. It was a beautiful afternoon to be outdoors.