Isha Clarke, a junior from MetWest High in Oakland, came to Chevron headquarters in San Ramon to participate in the climate strike on Friday Sept. 27, 2019. (Lindsey Moore/KQED)
About 200 climate activists rallied in front of Chevron’s corporate headquarters in San Ramon. The protesters urged the oil company to get off fossil fuels by 2025.
High school and middle school students of color from across the Bay Area led this action. They call themselves Youth vs. Apocalypse and maintain the company is jeopardizing their future. That’s why, they say, they’re demanding a rapid shift away from carbon-intensive energy.
“Chevron is a billion-dollar company that is poisoning our communities,” said Isha Clarke, an organizer and a junior from MetWest High in Oakland. “Their refineries are in low-income communities of color. We are here to tell them that you cannot keep killing our planet. And you can’t keep doing it in a way that completely disrespects people of color and low-income people.”
She says Chevron disproportionately pollutes places like Richmond, a city that is home to more than 200,000 people. U.S. Census figures indicate that nearly half of them are black. Chevron operates a 2,900-acre refinery there.
Around 8:30 a.m. adults from the Sunrise Movement and other environmental groups hastily erected garden boxes and mockups of oil derricks. They moved the organic planter beds in front of the parking lot entrance to “represent true solutions, not ones that destroy the planet,” organizers said.
At 9:00 a.m. the students arrived on a black bus, carrying banners and protest signs, to lead the action.
“They need to be accountable,” said Seray Cemre Gönen, a senior at California High School, a public school in San Ramon. “They’ve known that climate change exists for 40 years.”
On its Facebook page, the activist group says the company must “stop using their influence to harm frontline communities and our future.”
The group is also pushing Gov. Gavin Newsom to “hold Chevron accountable.”
Around 10:00 a.m., the company invited Clarke, Gönen, and two other students inside to talk with representatives.
“We spoke truth to power, and however they take that, is how they take it,” Clarke said afterward. “We will continue to push for radical action.”
“Ten years ago we probably would have heard them say climate change is not real,” she said. “Now they're being forced to, at least, show or pretend that they are taking steps towards being better. We got their cards and we definitely will be contacting them.”
Sean Comey, a spokesman for Chevron, met with the students. He said the company believes that climate change is real and that human activity contributes to it, “including the use of some of our products.” Comey said that the company is taking action to address climate change by investing in technology and low-carbon business opportunities.
He added that the company disagrees with the protesters on how quickly Chevron should transition away from fossil fuels.
“We are open to a dialogue with people from a variety of viewpoints, including them,” he said. “We’re hoping events like this will drive an honest dialogue about how we balance the needs of the world for energy to fuel economic development and rising standards of living with protecting the environment.”
You can read more about the company’s stance on climate change on their website here.
In the Union of Concerned Scientists’ latest assessment of how leading fossil fuel companies are addressing climate change, the group found Chevron continues a pattern of misrepresenting climate science in its public statements, holding leadership positions in trade and industry groups that spread climate disinformation and “avoids doing its part to bring about a world free from carbon pollution.”
The Union gave Chevron a score of “egregious” for its public statements on climate change. The company “downplayed the role of human activity and the need to reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases, stressed uncertainties regarding climate impacts, and continued to insist that only global climate action is constructive or effective.”
But, the group also found that Chevron “responded to pressure by improving its disclosures of global warming emissions and political contributions.”
The company, one of the largest oil companies in the world, made $14.8 billion in net earnings in 2018.
Friday’s action took place during several days of protests across the region, and a week after a worldwide youth climate strike. Organizers for Youth vs. Apocalypse led the march in San Francisco a week ago that snarled traffic in the financial district and completely shut down a stretch of Market St. On Wednesday, climate activists and artists created murals in front of San Francisco’s largest financial institutions.
Get the best of KQED's science coverage in your inbox weekly.