San Mateo politicians call for climate reform at youth rally

Alex Kelly, Business Manager

Roisin McElarney and Youth CCL member and speaker Aran O’Sullivan lead the rally through San Mateo Central Park. (Alex Kelly)

On Saturday, Aug. 13, local politicians and climate change activists gathered in San Mateo Central Park for the second annual Youth Climate Action Rally, organized by San Mateo’s youth chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL).

On paper, the rally aimed to raise awareness for climate change and advocate for carbon fee and dividend legislation — a law that would put a tax on every ton of carbon emitted by corporations, and distribute revenue from the tax to residents.

However, the rally also gave community leaders a platform to prove their dedication to fighting the climate crisis and amplified the voices of youth advocates.

Initially, attendees marched down East 5th Avenue and El Camino Real, chanting for climate justice and waving their posters at drivers. The protest received positive honks and cheers from passersby, with the exception of two individuals who made obscene gestures at the protesters.

“Young voters are out, they are present and, in most cases, their number one issue is climate change,” said Roisin McElarney, who heads the local youth chapter of CCL and led the rally.

After about an hour of chanting and marching at the corner of El Camino Real, attendees returned to the park to hear speeches from local politicians as well as student members of CCL. Speakers included San Mateo Mayor Rick Bonilla, State Senator Josh Becker, and 15th Congressional District candidates Kevin Mullin and David Canepa. Politicians spoke positively about the recent passing of the Inflation Reduction Act, the largest federal legislative investment in climate change in U.S. history. But they also emphasized the need for further action, pushing for the continued electrification of Caltrain and San Mateo buildings.

No more coal, no more oil, keep your carbon in the soil.”

— Rally chant

“We want to make sure that we’re really able to electrify,” Canepa, a current member of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, told the crowd. “We need to make sure that Caltrain, which runs on diesel, that we electrify that as soon as possible.”

Josh Becker spoke more pointedly about action on the state level and the importance of passing new  climate legislation before the California legislature adjourns on Aug. 31. Becker specifically focused on Senate Bill 1020, which would set benchmarks for investment in clean energy resources and progress toward a 100% clean grid.

“We have a democratic majority, but we can’t always get climate done… so we really need to get everyone aligned,” Becker said.

Congressional District Candidate David Canepa walks with student protesters down El Camino, holding a sign saying “Climate Action now. (Alex Kelly)

At the end of the day, leaders of the rally and speakers recognized the need for federal action on carbon emissions. On the stage, a large banner read “Students for a Carbon Fee and Dividend”. In the crowd, ralliers chanted “no more coal, no more oil, keep your carbon in the soil” and “Exxon Mobil, BP, Shell, take your filth and go to hell.” 

“We don’t want companies to move out of here because we’ve got a harder system and then they start polluting in Arizona,” Becker said when discussing a cap-and-trade or carbon tax system. “We need a national system.”

Although local politicians dominated the lineup of speakers, San Mateo’s youth certainly made their voices heard at the rally. Hillsdale junior Olivia Murray organized a pep band for the rally, Burlingame junior Stella Wettan tabled at the rally for the organization Sustainable San Mateo County, and Burlingame senior Ava Giere pre-registered and registered young voters who attended the gathering.

“Your advocacy is being heard; your advocacy is working. It is not falling on deaf ears,” current state Assemblymember Kevin Mullin said. “You are seeing hope on the horizon.”