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Steamboat Magazine

Steamboat's Newest Activist

04/13/2021 01:38PM ● By Sophie Dingle
This story was originally published in February, 2020 and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.

On Friday, Sept. 20, 2019, at 10 a.m., Emi Cooper stood up from her physics class and walked out of school. She was on her way to the courthouse, and she wasn’t alone. One hundred other high school students followed her lead, as well as at least 200 community members. The group congregated at the courthouse to bring awareness to the issue of climate change and protest inaction from political leaders; they registered voters, wrote letters to senators, called local city council members and painted signs to put on display for onlookers.

Around the world, millions of activists and concerned citizens did the exact same thing. This was the third global climate strike to date, and this time 7.6 million people protested the state of the global climate. In Steamboat Springs, Cooper gave a speech on the courthouse lawn and then walked back to school at 1 p.m. to resume her day.

Cooper, a junior at Steamboat Springs High School, first became interested in climate change after reading the book “Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet” by Mark Lynas.

“I would see things on the news or read snippets here and there, but nothing really resonated with me personally until I read this book and started thinking about what I could do individually to help reduce my own carbon footprint,” Cooper explains.

She went vegan (only missing cheese a little bit) and cut back on single-use plastics.

“(I did) all the things you typically think about on an individual basis,” Cooper says. But even after taking these steps, she still felt frustrated – after all, there were still forest fires and rising sea levels. She decided to broaden her reach and join the global movement. Thus, the Steamboat branch of Fridays for Future was born.

The global organization was started by Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist. Thunberg first became known for her political action in 2018, when she began spending her school days outside the Swedish parliament calling for stronger action on global warming. When other students joined her in their own communities, they came together to form Fridays for Future, now a global group with branches all over the world.

Cooper leads Steamboat’s group, which meets once a week at the library to discuss climate and environmental issues and solutions globally and locally. It started small, with people that Cooper knew who felt passionately about similar issues and then grew when the group, and Cooper herself, received press after the Sept. 20 strike and the August 2019 Stand for our Land Rally, at which Cooper spoke.

“Emi’s motivation is unparalleled amongst other teenagers,” says Chris Ruff, a social studies teacher at Steamboat Springs High School. “She is always looking for the greater connections about the world around her.”

Next Cooper will focus her attention on the local Greenhouse Gas Emissions study that came out last November and was funded by the city. The study will provide a comprehensive analysis about the source of the majority of Steamboat’s emissions and what steps the community can take to reduce them. The city and county plan to draft a climate action plan jointly, and a 30-person committee is bringing together people from various sectors to brainstorm solutions and next steps. Committee members include representatives from the ski resort, local businesses, hotels, the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council and, of course, Cooper.

“I’m so excited to work with this committee,” Cooper says. “I’m hopeful that this climate action plan will be an important step for our community to take in terms of combating climate change.”

So, what does the future hold for the city? Cooper has high expectations.

“I feel hopeful now, especially with this new climate action plan. We have a long way to go, but I feel the community is passionate enough about our environment to get us there.”