(Corrects paragraph 19 to remove reference to Anchorage being Alaska’s capital)
By Sebastien Malo
NEW YORK, March 14 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Oil is everywhere in Oklahoma, says local student Luke Kerr.
But that has not deterred him from planning a protest here calling for its phasing out in the state's capital city on Friday - mirroring similar events due to be staged around the world by students skipping school.
“It is very important that strikes and marches take place in fossil-fuel producing areas of the country, like Oklahoma,” the high school senior said on Thursday.
“We are showing the rest of the country that we can fight for climate.”
With strikes planned in at least 168 U.S. cities and towns here mostly progressive communities, a handful of them like that set up by Kerr stand out for taking place deep in oil country.
The students are taking their cue from Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg here whose weekly "school strike for climate" has sparked a global movement.
The school strike movement - which hopes to raise awareness on climate change and force policymakers to take action - has taken the world by storm in recent months, prompting school walkouts mostly in Europe and Australia.
Kerr and his fellow student protesters will rally just feet away from monumental, mock oil derricks next to the State Capitol in Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma ranks fourth among all 50 states for oil production, whose burning is blamed for climate change.
The southern state recently left its mark on the country when its former attorney general, Scott Pruitt, angered environmentalists due to his skepticism of mainstream climate science when he headed the Environmental Protection Agency.
About 38 percent of Oklahomans do not believe in global warming, an eight percentage point difference from the national average, according to a 2018 survey here by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.
In the adjacent state of Colorado, 7-year-old Forest Olson has been the driving force behind another climate rally in an area that is also among the country’s top fossil fuel producers.
The mountainous state ranks fifth nationally for its crude oil production, and tenth for coal, federal data shows.
But Olson, a first grader who lives outside the remote town of Telluride, is rallying high school and elementary school students there who have agreed to follow his lead to demonstrate on the county court house’s steps.
The young boy is witnessing the effects of climate change first hand, said his mother Josselin Lifton-Zoline, including reduced snowpacks on nearby ski slopes.
Snowpacks are expected to continue decreasing in size and affect water resources in the western United States, according to the National Climate Assessment here a U.S. government report.
So Olson recently wrote to the town newspaper and spoke to his fellow pupils about taking to the streets.
“I love Earth and I don’t want it to be a disaster,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
In Alaska’s biggest city, Anchorage, German exchange student Maxim Unruh, said he had been inspired to bring the movement to this oil-rich state after a friend back home helped with Berlin’s first youth climate strike in December.
The 17-year-old high school senior said he expected some push back for exporting ideas perceived by some as foreign but had prepared a response.
"The climate crisis is a problem in the whole world, and it doesn't matter from where - I'll fight for climate justice," he said. (Reporting by Sebastien Malo @sebastienmalo, Editing by Michael Taylor. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers climate change, humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking and property rights. Visit news.trust.org/climate)