On a brilliant Sunday afternoon, half a dozen high school students gathered in the front yard of a North End home, spread a yellow sheet over a backyard table and started brainstorming slogans and messages for their banner.
“I really like ‘Biden Answers to Youth,’” Shiva told his friends.
They are members of Extinction Rebellion, an environmentally focused group of youths who have been behind demonstrations at Chase Bank in downtown Boise and have been instrumental in climate walkouts. Just days after the confirmation of Joe Biden as the President-elect, they began outlining a whole month of actions aimed at what they describe as a much improved, though still insufficient, political will to address what they see as one of the most pressing issues facing the country and the world: climate change.
The yellow sheet, they said, is destined for a banner drop that will take place somewhere in Boise on Wednesday, Jan. 20—inauguration day—which is also when they have planned a virtual climate strike for the steps of the Idaho State Capitol to press for net zero emissions by 2030, a recommendation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The logistics of making that event a hybrid of in-person and virtual, they said, are still in the works, but in preparation, members of Extinction Rebellion have studied the various proposals made by scientists and policymakers, beginning with one of the most ambitious, the Green New Deal.
In short, that proposal aims to make the United States carbon-neutral by 2050, opening with a 10-year overhaul of everything from electricity generation to new building construction in order for America to absorb as much carbon as it releases into the atmosphere. While there has been little in the way of movement on those proposals since 2018, when Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Edward J. Markey introduced it, but it has become a benchmark for American climate activists.
Less aggressive, though still historical in its scope and intent, is President-elect Joe Biden’s plan, which calls for a 100% clean energy economy by 2050 by creating an enforcement mechanism by 2025, investing in climate research and clean energy investment, and establishing incentives for the deployment of clean energy technology, particularly in communities determined to be most at risk for the adverse effects of climate change.
More locally, “XR Youth” in Boise have looked to the State of Idaho and, especially, the city itself for action. Among the city’s goals are the establishment of a climate economy incubator that seeks and supports new business opportunities addressing the climate, a plan to plant thousands of trees and create a climate action division using existing city staff.
For the students gathered in the North End, the more ambitious the plan, the better; and with a new, more environmentally minded president set to come into office, they feel empowered, though still facing an uphill hike.
“Biden, we’re really excited for your plan, but we think you could do more,” Shiva said, though he added that he feels like the group “can make real change this year.”
The Green New Deal, Biden’s climate plan and Boise Mayor Lauren McLean’s own moves on climate fall under the aegis of climate justice—the ethic that the poor and other marginalized communities often bear the brunt of the effects of climate change, and that addressing the issue protects and serves them. That ethic appeals to the members of XR Youth, for whom climate activism is a gateway to their other interests. It’s also a lens through which they see other current events, including an insurrectionary riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. As the world watched on, XR Youth in Boise saw yet another distraction from the pressing social, political and economic issues faced by the United States staged by a side of the political spectrum ill-disposed to the call for action on climate change.
“I wish that a coup and climate policy were super unrelated,” said Petra, at whose house the XR Youth had gathered. “Climate, for me, is a way to be an activist in a lot of different areas.”