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Corvallis High School Green Club Co-President Aidan Evans is prepared for the questions.

Why leave school to protest? Why didn’t you just stay in class?

“Climate change is more important. We won’t have a school to go to when our world is on fire,” he said. “We can’t do nothing. We strike because it does make a difference.”

Evans and his Green Club colleagues organized Corvallis’ participation in the global Youth Climate Strike Friday afternoon, an event the club members put together in coordination with peers at Crescent Valley High School.

Students walked out of their schools around noon Friday and gathered up first outside Corvallis High School to protest and then moved onto its football field for speeches. The students and community supporters then marched to City Hall where they were greeted by Mayor Biff Traber and members of the City Council and school board.

At least 400 students gathered on the field at Corvallis High School, which was closed to the larger public. And at least 100 community members gathered outside the field with signs expressing support for the protest.

Evans, a 16-year-old junior, said students have been planning the event for two months. Preparations included arranging speakers, getting audio equipment to broadcast to the audience and having an artist make signs and clothing decals for rally participants.

Evans said the students are calling for a move to 100 percent green energy, improvements to public transit, incentives for driving electric vehicles, efficiency upgrades for houses and other buildings, and a K-12 sustainability curriculum.

Avery Hsieh, a 17-year-old Corvallis High School student, was among the event’s speakers. She said people can’t be complacent about climate change and compared it to driver's education classes, in which students are taught to stay at least four seconds away from any potential hazard so they have time to stop. She said while scientists have estimated humans have about 10 years to make changes to avert the worst effects of climate change, in reality that means humans don’t have much time to slam the brakes on climate change.

“We are in a car together and heading toward a wall of destruction that’s just three seconds away,” she said.

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She added that people have the power to create change if they try.

Nathan Vega, a 17-year-old Corvallis High School student, said solving climate change was actually an opportunity for students: areas such as like alternative transportation, sustainable agriculture and renewable energy are poised to grow and could make good careers for students.

“Though our cause is urgent, it need not be dour,” he said.

He said as people tackle climate change, those who have divested from fossil fuels and invested in green industries are in a position to profit.

“We must see this urgent problem as an opportunity to benefit from its solution,” he said.

Bill Ripple, a distinguished professor in Oregon State University's College of Forestry, was also a speaker at the event, saying he and other scientists have a moral obligation to warn about existential threats like climate change.

He said he believes there is a tidal change coming to the politics of climate change, and he believes students will be the tipping point on the issue.

“You are striking today to save tomorrow,” he said.

There were at least two counterprotesters at the event, who took turns holding up a sign saying that the so-called  “Green New Deal” would bankrupt the United States and asking who would pay for it.

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Anthony Rimel covers education and crime in Benton County and weekend events across the Mid-Valley. He can be reached at anthony.rimel@lee.net or 541-812-6091.

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