Hundreds of students rally outside Portland City Hall on Friday afternoon as part of a worldwide rally to draw attention to climate change. Credit: Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Hundreds of students of all ages assembled in midday rallies around Maine Friday as part of a worldwide rally to draw attention to climate change.

“This is our job,” Phoebe MacDonald, 9, of Portland’s Ocean Avenue Elementary School called out to a crowd of nearly 600 gathered outside Portland City Hall. “We can’t wait for others to do it. … We all have the ability to make a difference, if we work together and we act.”

In addition to Portland, organizers said rallies were held in Saco, Brunswick, Lewiston, Bar Harbor and just across the border in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Those came as part of more than 1,300 similar Youth Climate Strike events held in nearly 120 countries around the world.

“We are here today because time is running out,” said Anna Siegel, 12, a seventh grader at the Friends School of Portland who organized the Portland demonstration. “We are here today to take action and fight for the right to live on a healthy and stable Earth.”

Credit: Troy R. Bennett

A number of students who gathered for the event in Maine’s largest city called for lawmakers to support the Green New Deal, an ambitious plan promoted by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., to pivot the country sharply toward renewable energies and invest in technologies such as environmentally friendly electric cars and rail systems.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, was among the earliest supporters of the Green New Deal, which has been hailed as America’s best proposal for responding to climate change by many environmental activists, but criticized by some members of both major political parties as being unrealistic and too expensive.

“It’s not a liberal or conservative issue, it’s an issue that will affect every single one of us,” Ruth Metcalfe, a Kennebunk High School sophomore, said to the assembled crowd in Portland. “We must stand up not only for the children of our generation, but every generation that comes after us.”

Ryan O’Leary, a senior at Scarborough High School, urged the Portland demonstrators to do their part by making small lifestyle changes, like drinking with reusable metal straws instead of disposable plastic ones, as well as “voting with [their] dollars,” by supporting companies that promote environmentally friendly practices.

Credit: Troy R. Bennett

In addition to adoption of the Green New Deal, students taking part in the Youth Climate Strikes called for the declaration of a national emergency on climate change, an end to all fossil fuel-reliant infrastructure projects and compulsory education on climate change in all elementary and middle schools, among other demands.

Federal scientists say the planet’s average surface temperature has risen about 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit since the late 19th century and that the global sea level has risen by about eight inches in the last 100 years, and blame the increases largely on human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.

Credit: Troy R. Bennett

Locally, researchers from the organization Friends of Casco Bay have found the waters off the coast of southern Maine are on average about 2.5 degrees warmer now than 25 years ago, while the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that temperatures in Maine have risen by about 3 degrees since the early 1900s.

President Donald Trump has continued to stoke skepticism in climate change among those in his conservative base, calling it a “hoax.” Trump has reportedly planned to assemble a White House panel to refute the more widely publicized climate change science, a move that would come after the president has already pledged to pull the U.S. out of the international 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation.

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Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.