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Youth Environmental Activists Call Out Funders of 'Climate Chaos'

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A young man walks through a crowd of students with a hand-made sign that reads "Future on Fire"
A few hundred people, primarily youth, march through downtown San Francisco in a youth-led protest against fossil fuels on Oct. 29, 2021, as part of a global day of climate action in advance of COP26, the Glasgow climate summit. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Climate demonstrators gathered outside the San Francisco headquarters of investment management company BlackRock on Friday, as part of a global day of action demanding financial institutions "defund climate chaos" — end funding of corporations that perpetuate climate destruction.

The day of action, which took place in at least 100 cities around the world, was timed ahead of COP26, the United Nations climate conference beginning in Glasgow on Sunday.

A drawn picture of a fist with a carrot can be seen, and several people paint and do art on the street
Members of Urban Tilth paint a mural on the 400 block of Howard Street in San Francisco on Oct. 29, 2021, part of a climate strike in advance of the Glasgow climate summit. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

The Bank on Our Future campaign says that stopping the funding of asset managers like BlackRock would help stop the flow of funding for oil and gas.

At least 200 kids left school in a climate strike, joined by survivors of wildfires across the state and Indigenous leaders. Eight demonstrators blocked the entrances to BlackRock’s building throughout the day, and two were arrested after hanging a banner saying, "Investments set the world on fire from CA to Amazon #DefundClimateChaos" from the nearby Salesforce Transit Center.

In addition to a march and rally, participants painted a block-long street mural with paint made from California wildfire ash. Youth Vs. Apocalypse, a group of young climate justice activists who focus on youth of color and working class youth, organized the march.

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“It hits home for us because we’re from Richmond,” said Marco Lemus, a  26-year-old community organizer with Urban Tilth. “We have Chevron, which is a huge corporation, polluting our air constantly and flaring — stuff that we deal with on a daily basis." Lemus was headed to Glasgow to participate in direct action.

A crowd of many different people — mostly young people of color — walk with signs and drums: 'divest from death' and 'people vs fossil fuels.'
A few hundred people, primarily youth, march through downtown San Francisco in a youth-led protest against fossil fuels on Oct. 29, 2021, as part of a global day of climate action in advance of COP26, the Glasgow climate summit.

Others, like Solwazi Allah, a 24-year-old Richmond resident who also works for Urban Tilth, called out BlackRock for investing in fossil fuel companies.

“The fossil fuel industry is enemy No. 1 for us personally,” Allah said.

BlackRock representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

Many young people decided to take the day to strike, and organizers included a school excusal notice on their website.

"Asthma is the most common reason for school absences, and climate change is linked to several well-known asthma triggers, including extreme heat, air pollution, allergies, and mold," the note reads. "Students around the world are asserting their right to inherit a livable planet, and we stand with them in this fight."

Seventeen-year-old Lizbeth Ibarra, a high school student and organizer with Youth vs. Apocalypse, said, “Investments in the fossil fuel industry are also investments in the destruction of my future.”

Loryan Boyette Tindall, a fifth grader at Manzanita SEED Elementary School in Oakland, said he has asthma.

"It doesn't help when there are smoky days," he said.

Boyette Tindall came with parent chaperones and classmates to send the message that young people are invested in keeping fossil fuels in the ground. He said he plans to be a climate activist for the rest of his life.

A young woman in a purple skirt paints with green on a San Francisco street as part of a climate rally
Elizabeth Hoover paints a mural that says 'Water Is Life,' along with the group Idle No More SF Bay, on the 400 block of Howard Street in San Francisco on Oct. 29, 2021, part of a climate strike in advance of the Glasgow climate summit. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Many demonstrators took aim at BlackRock, where CEO Larry Fink  helms one of the world’s largest fossil fuel investment portfolios, worth $87 billion. Fink pushed BlackRock to vote against shareholder resolutions that were pro-climate, according to The Guardian. Other reports say the company has $85 billion invested in coal. As of 2019, BlackRock also was one of the the largest investors in PG&E.

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“By now, it should be no surprise to Larry Fink that we are at the doorsteps of BlackRock here in San Francisco,” said Isabella Zizi of Idle No More SF Bay, in a press release ahead of the event. “Yet again, we continue to demand he take initiative on climate change and make immediate and needed decisions that are going to ensure a clean and safe future.”

Fink has been called the world’s most powerful investor as well as one of America's top climate villains.

Survivors of California's many wildfires made their voices heard at the protest. “How many more disasters must we witness, must our kids witness?” asked Wendy McCall, who said she lost her home in the 2018 Camp Fire, which destroyed the town of Paradise.

A woman stands back to camera with a "youth vs apocalypse" sign on her back and holding a bullhorn.
A few hundred people, primarily youth, march through downtown San Francisco in a youth-led protest against fossil fuels on Oct. 29, 2021, as a part of a global day of climate action in advance of COP26, the Glasgow climate summit. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Allen Myers, who was born and raised in Paradise and who founded an organization called Regenerating Paradise in the aftermath of the Camp Fire, also turned out in support. He previously delivered ashes from his hometown to Senator Dianne Feinstein and Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“We are here today to call upon corporations like BlackRock and elected leaders to stop extracting fossil fuels,” Myers said.

Hannah Wilson-James, who lost her family home in the CZU Complex Fire of August 2020, echoed other fire survivors and emphasized the importance of taking action immediately. “Unless BlackRock takes meaningful action now to drive down emissions, more towns will burn, and our pain and dispossession will be the price paid for their profits,” she said.

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