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'It's Our Future': Kentucky Students Call For Climate Action As Kentuckian Joins UN

Josh James

The United Nations 2019 Climate Action Summit began Monday in New York City as Kentucky native Kelly Knight Craft takes over as U.S. Ambassador to the organization. The Trump nominee makes her debut as the world body confronts major problems on multiple fronts —and protests back home and abroad over inaction on the climate.

Craft, a former ambassador to Canada, is becoming the voice for the U.S. at a time when the pressure is on to confront concerns over Iran’s nuclear program, missile launches in North Korea, and climate change, just to name a few.

On that last issue, Craft told CBC News in 2017, she respects “scientists on both sides” of the climate debate.

"I believe there are scientists on both sides that are accurate," she told the Canadian news outlet. When pressed on whether there is a science that proves that man is not causing climate change, the Lexington native repeated, "I think that both sides have their own results from their studies and I appreciate and respect both sides of the science." 

Monday, Swedish activist Greta Thunberg told a UN audience her generation has heard enough vacillating from world leaders, and called for concrete action.

Credit AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File
IN this Sept. 26, 2017, file photo, U.S. Ambassador to Canada Kelly Knight Craft stands during her swearing in ceremony in the Indian Treaty Room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House grounds in Washington.

"For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear," the 16-year-old argued in a passionate address. "How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you're doing enough when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight." 

Craft, who is married to Joe Craft, the CEO of major coal producer Alliance Resource Partners, was sworn in on September 12, and told The Washington Post that the Trump administration is bringing a new level of scrutiny to UN and will demand more from the world body when it comes to burden-sharing.

Last week, climate action protests made their way to Craft's home state with students joined a worldwide movement by leading about half a dozen demonstrations across the commonwealth. About two hundred students and their supporters congregated at the Capitol steps with a message for lawmakers: "together, we will be heard."

The event – one of hundreds of others across the U.S. and the world – had echoes of 2018’s anti-gun violence March for Our Lives, with young people taking the driver’s seat on an issue they say leaders are ignoring.

Credit AP Photo/Jason DeCrow
Environmental activist Greta Thunberg, of Sweden, addresses the Climate Action Summit in the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters, Monday, Sept. 23, 2019.

"I mean, it's our future," said E.J. Emen, a junior at Franklin County High School who stood alongside classmates demanding reforms. "Some people in the government, they don't believe that it's happening, but it is and as students we have big voices. We can be heard and I feel like our voices need to be heard about this issue. Something needs to happen." 

Some of the actions the student speakers would like to see: a transition to renewable energy in the commonwealth, more attention on climate change in classrooms across the state, the protection of biodiversity, and other measures they say are urgently needed to create a livable environment for future generations.