The Swedish climate activist joined more than 1,000 people for an afternoon of youth-led climate action in Los Angeles

Paradise is not what it used to be, as Greta Thunberg witnessed earlier this week. Today the town with a lovely name is best known for the apocalyptic fire that ripped through it last year, decimating nearly every home and killing 86 people.

This week California is once more in flames as fires rage in the north and south a point that was not lost on the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist who spoke at a rally in Los Angeles on Friday.

We can see the wildfires happening right around the corner, Thunberg said outside City Hall, just miles from an ongoing blaze. Right now we are living in the beginning of a climate and ecological breakdown, and we cannot look away from this crisis anymore.

More than a thousand people joined Thunberg for an afternoon of youth-led environmental action, a scene that has become familiar as she and young people like her are increasingly frustrated with the inaction of their elders.

The older generations are failing us, she told the crowd, where organizers of the Youth Climate Strike were demanding that Californias governor Gavin Newsom impose an immediate moratorium on new oil and gas drilling. They are failing future generations. But future generations do not have a voice. And the biosphere does not have a voice. So we will be the voice that speaks for them.

Thunberg kept a low profile at the march. She was not on the frontlines, where all the cameras were; she was just another marcher, somewhere in the back. Photograph: Charles Davis/The Guardian

Young people especially young women came out in force. Lily Olson, a 17-year-old high school senior from Los Angeles, said Thunberg was an inspiration to people of her generation, her existence a rejoinder to those who think the young should wait to speak out about their future.

Its amazing to see someone my age with such articulation and care and passion for what other people would consider not a big deal, she said. People seem to think because were young we dont know what were talking about, or we dont have the ability to make change. But seeing someone like Greta speak about what shes truly passionate about it really gives me faith in my generation.

Morgan Wright, an 11-year-old from Burbank, attended Fridays rally with her mother. She too cited Greta as a role model. Ive watched a lot of her speeches and rallies in my history class, she said, noting that she had since helped start an eco-club to pressure her school to do more to protect the environment. Its really cool to see someone that can go up there and talk, even though theyre technically not an adult yet, Wright said. And they go up there and inspire people just like me.

Casey Anell, 10, came from Huntington Park to attend the rally with her mother. Shes been learning about climate change at school, and she too feels there is no more time for stalling.

Theres a 50-50 chance the rainforest is going to be gone, and Im going to be sad, she said, and her classmates are frightened. Theyre scared because they dont want any animals to go extinct, she explained. Some adults are doing something about it, she said, but I dont know about the government.

Though undoubtedly a star, Thunberg kept a low profile at the march. When young people began marching through the streets of downtown, she was not on the frontlines, where all the cameras were; she was just another marcher, somewhere in the back, melting into the anonymity of the crowd, rumors of her presence whispered by many who came to hear her speak.

Greta Thunberg marches in front of Los Angeles City Hall at the youth climate strike. Photograph: Christian Monterrosa/EPA

The limelight was ceded to local activists and their campaign: not just to address the global effects of the climate crisis, but the fact that Los Angeles remains a major producer of the very thing fueling it.

Up to 8,000 barrels of oil are produced each day from wells in the city of Los Angeles, according to a July 2019 report from City Hall, and an estimated 1.6bn more barrels remain in the ground below. Over half a million people live within 2,500ft of an active oil or gas well, a number activists want reduced to zero. Not only does this production fuel the climate crisis, which in turn intensifies the fires now threatening the city, but the air pollution this drilling creates has itself increased rates of asthma and the risk of cancer among those living immediately next door a majority of whom are members of low-income, minority communities.

Nalleli Cobo, 18, has been campaigning against such drilling since she was 9 and growing up across the street from an oil well operating on land in South LA leased to a private firm, AllenCo, by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

Allowing this oil well to spew toxic emissions is another way the archdiocese is abusing children, she reminded Angelenos. It is time to switch to clean, renewable energy. There is no more time to waste.



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