Student activists urge Arizona Legislature to protect environment

PHOENIX – Sixty students from six high schools listed a litany of environmental concerns Wednesday at the Arizona Capitol, urging legislators to stop uranium mining near national parks and work harder to conserve water.

“When I was in fourth grade, there were seven kids in my class of 28 who had asthma, plus three kids including myself who had bronchitis,” said 14-year-old Anna Rose Mohr-Almeida, who said Arizona air needs to be cleaner. “On certain days, when the air was dirty, we couldn’t participate in any activities that included any running.”

Environmental activists from high schools across Arizona conducted a news conference during Environmental Day at the Capitol. The Sierra Club organized the high school group’s presentation.

Elea Ziegelbaum, a senior at Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy, runs the Earth Guardians Crew at her school. She talked about climate change at Environmental Day at the Arizona Capitol, joining students from six schools. (Photo by Ethan Millman / Cronkite News)

Elea Ziegelbaum, a senior at Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy, runs the Earth Guardians Crew at her school. She talked about climate change at Environmental Day at the Arizona Capitol, joining students from six schools. (Photo by Ethan Millman / Cronkite News)

Youth leaders have been a steady presence at the annual event but Wednesday’s session was the highest participation level so far, said Sandy Bahr, who heads the Arizona chapter of the Sierra Club.

“I’m so optimistic about the future because of the young people that came out today and young people I hear from,” Bahr said. “I was petrified to speak in high school and here we’ve got students who are passionate about environmental protection.”

Mohr-Almeida, a freshman at Westwood High School in Mesa, said clean air affects quality of life.

“I chose this issue because it’s one of the big things that affects me. It affects my friends, it affects my family, and it’s one of those things I’ve fought for since I started,” advocating for the environment, said Mohr-Almeida, making her third trip to the event.

Elea Ziegelbaum, a senior at Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy, brought up several environmental issues. She said uranium farming on reservations has contaminated water and air.

“If we hope to have a just, bountiful and promising future for this state’s youth and for generations to come, these matters must be addressed as the threat that they are,” Ziegelbaum said. She called on legislators who are deciding her future “to take serious action on these issues.”

Young people need to seek solutions to environmental degradation to help save the world they will inherit, several high schoolers said.

“We’re going to inherit this place,” Mohr-Almeida said. “We’re going to inherit the landfills, we’re going to inherit all the problems that started climate change and all the blowback.”