WASHINGTON – Sounds of toddlers laughing and playing echoed around her, but on stage the message from a Mesa teen was serious: Act on climate change, or we will suffer.
Westwood High School sophomore Anna Rose Mohr-Almeida was one of scores of kids and parents who turned out on Capitol Hill Thursday for the annual climate action “play-in,” aimed at bringing attention to the need for clean air and climate action.
“Clean air is fundamental to human health and survival,” Anna Rose, 14, said to about 500 families and a handful of Hill staffers gathered in Upper Senate Park near the Capitol. “So we must make sure people have clean air to breathe.”
Anna Rose and her mom, Kathy, were one of a handful from Arizona who joined parents and kids from 40 states at the fourth annual event sponsored by the Moms Clean Air Force, which hit on the idea of a play-in instead of a sit-in to focus attention on the need for clean air.
But for many, this year’s event took on added urgency after the White House announced plans in June to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement aimed at reducing climate change and signaled its intent to roll back environmental regulations and embrace coal.
That agreement had been signed on to by every nation in the world except Syria and Nicaragua, setting targets for greenhouse gas emissions that are believed to cause global warming. But President Donald Trump said the accord was too costly and would result in too little environmental gain at the cost of jobs in the U.S.
Trump said in a Rose Gardcn ceremony that if abiding by the accord by 2040 would have cost “close to $3 trillion in lost GDP (gross domestic product) and 6.5 million industrial jobs, while households would have $7,000 less income.”
The move was hailed by Republicans. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, said in a Western Caucus statement that withdrawal “puts America first.” Gosar did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
-Cronkite News video by Alex Valdez.
But the decision to withdraw from the accord was lambasted by Democrats, and many local governments announced plans to adhere to the accord standards no matter what the White House does.
Despite the grave message and the sweltering heat, the atmosphere at Thursday’s play-in was festive. Children and their parents played with big blocks, bounced inflatable globes on a parachute and danced to the beat of a high-school drum line.
Gretchen Dahlkemper, advocacy director for Moms Clean Air Force, said it puts on events like the play-in because its members believe Congress isn’t doing its part to stop climate change.
“As a mom, we do not accept doing nothing as a viable response to the overwhelming consensus that the climate is changing,” Dahlkemper said. “We need to solve this problem, and we need Congress to do it.”
Kathy Mohr-Almeida said parents like her were there out of concern for “their kids and their well-being and their safety, their future and their happiness and their health.”
“As far as I am concerned I do not have any choice,” she said. “This is a do-or-die matter.”
Anna Rose said the issue of clean air is particularly important to her, an athlete with asthma whose condition is made worse by poor air quality. It’s part of the reason she founded a group called the Kids Climate Action Network.
“No one should have to go through things like this, especially when we have solutions for the problem of dirty air,” she said.
Several members of Congress stopped by the event, including freshman Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pennsylvania, who said that it is time for bipartisan action on climate change.
“This has got to be an all-hands-on-deck solution,” Fitzpatrick said, adding that he looks forward to having “not one, but two pro-environmental parties in this town.”
Kathy Mohr-Almeida said she doesn’t see any other choice.
“Clean air is imperative. We need to clean up our atmosphere,” she said. “I am thinking about my daughter’s grandkids and their grandkids and it is something that we need to address or it’s not going to end well for us.”