Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / A sign reading "the future is green" is propped up for others to see during a Climate Strike Friday, Sept. 20, 2019 in front of the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The event coincides with Global Climate Strike Week.

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Dozens of people of all ages gathered outside the Tennessee Aquarium to join in the wave of climate change protests that occurred across the globe Friday.

The "Global Climate Strike" events, including the one in Chattanooga, were predominantly led by young people who want to send a message to leaders that global warming and climate change is real and action is needed now.

"I'm here because climate change is real," said Graham Shults, 17. "Pollution has to stop. And if we don't do something soon there will be drastic side effects."

Shults is a local leader of the activist group Chattanooga Students Leading Change that formed in 2018 to raise awareness about gun violence and school safety.

She said many young people were gathered at Chattanooga's rally because they are the ones who will feel the impact of climate change.

"It's my generation that is being affected," she said. "Us and our children will feel the immediate impact of it."

Calvin Wood, a sophomore at McCallie School, asked those who attended the rally why more people weren't outraged about the harm that people inflict on the planet.

"The Earth will eventually survive and see the other side of global warming, but we will not," he said.

Malcolm Key attends Ivy Academy, the environmentally themed public charter school in Hamilton County. Like many of those at Friday's rally, Key talks with his peers about what needs to happen to fight climate change and he backs the Green New Deal, supported by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, of New York.

"I do have a lot of hope that things can improve if this Green New Deal can get passed," Key said.

The protests were partly inspired by the activism of Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, who has staged weekly demonstrations under the heading "Fridays for Future" over the past year, urging world leaders to step up their efforts against climate change.

"It's such a victory," Thunberg said in an interview Friday with The Associated Press in New York. "I would never have predicted or believed that this was going to happen, and so fast — and only in 15 months."

Thunberg is expected to participate in a U.N. Youth Climate Summit on Saturday and speak at the U.N. Climate Action Summit with global leaders on Monday.

"They have this opportunity to do something, and they should take that," she said in the interview. "And otherwise, they should feel ashamed."

The world has warmed about 1 degree Celsius (1.8 Fahrenheit) since before the Industrial Revolution, and scientists have attributed more than 90% of the increase to emissions of heat-trapping gases from fuel-burning and other human activity.

Scientists have warned that climate change will subject Earth to rising seas and more heat waves, droughts, powerful storms, flooding and other problems, and that some have already started manifesting themselves.

Nations around the world agreed at a 2015 summit in Paris to hold warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) more than pre-industrial-era levels by the end of this century.

But U.S. President Donald Trump subsequently announced that he was withdrawing the U.S. from the agreement, which he said benefited other nations at the expense of American businesses and taxpayers.

Trump referred to global warming as a "hoax" before becoming president. He has since said he's "not denying climate change" but is not convinced it's manmade or permanent.

Some local faith leaders and older adults joined alongside the young people in Chattanooga Friday.

"We are here to speak out about our moral concerns about God's creation," said Daniel Joranko, coordinator of Tennessee Interfaith Power, a group that is working to get churches engaged in climate action. "The youth are very concerned about the climate right now. They are concerned about their future and they will lead us."

Alice McMahon, a fifth grader at Normal Park Museum Magnet, was one of those young people. She held a sign that said "Respect Mother Earth," while blinking into the sun and watching the rally Friday.

She was there alongside her mother and siblings because she thinks it is important to teach others about how they can take care of the Earth.

"The Earth is the most important thing," McMahon said.

Staff writer Meghan Mangrum and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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