Sixth grader organizes ‘Fight for the Climate’ rally in Riverhead

Around age 5, Lea Rodger of Greenport, now 11, would tell anyone she ran into that she would be an entomologist when she grew up.

“People would be like, ‘How does she know that word?’ ” her mother, Danielle Rodger, recalled. “Lea has always been very connected with the environment — with nature, animals.”

The environmentally conscious sixth-grader has organized “Fight for the Climate,” a Riverhead protest to raise awareness and promote climate action.

It will begin at 11 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 11, outside the Long Island Aquarium.

The protest coincides with the Drawdown East End Festival at the Southampton Arts Center in Southampton, featuring films, forums and vendors that focus on the environment.

Lea said she was familiar with climate issues when she was younger, but was under the impression that they were being addressed.

“I knew what was happening, and I knew it was bad, but I thought people were fixing it,” Lea said. “I thought people and politicians were laying down rules about it, and it was going to be OK.”

After learning more about climate change at the Peconic Community School’s celebration of the International Day of Peace Sept. 21 — and listening with her class listened to Greta Thunberg’s speech at the 2019 U.N. climate action summit in New York, which went viral online — she did further research and determined she needed to act now.

Lea, who has recently converted to vegetarianism after investigating the mass production of animals for meat, said some of her major concerns are global warming and its impact on the poles and animal habitats, as well as the Australian wildfires, which have displaced people and killed millions of animals.

Lea approached Peconic Community School co-directors Liz Casey Searl and Kathryn Casey Quigley about the rally a few weeks ago. Ms. Casey Searl said they both were immediately on board.

The poster for the rally calls for participants to bring signs.

“We fully supported her and said we would help in any way we can,” she said. “We have access to the community in terms of letting them know, so we could do that and help get the word out and help promote her efforts and support it.”

Ms. Rodger said her daughter’s enrollment at Turtleback Farm Camp, a summer day camp run by Jennifer Murray and hosted at different locations across the North Fork, also helped educate her on environmental issues — and brought their urgency to the forefront.

“[The camp] instills environmental stewardship in all its kids,” Ms. Rodger said. “But Lea, she’s really a naturalist by heart. I think the school and the farm have encouraged her, and encouraged the fire that’s already there in her.”

Ms. Casey Searl said she believes Greta Thunberg’s speech was the impetus behind Lea’s motivation.

“[Lea] started watching more of her videos and reading more about her, seeing that a young person could really make change,” she said. “And that was a big part of what we wanted to show our students: Even though they’re kids, they have a voice and they can use that voice to make the world a better place.”

“We’re just so impressed with Lea and the school’s mission and vision to make the world a better place, and that our students can understand how to do that, and she just embodies that,” said Ms. Casey Quigley. “She embodies the school’s hopes and dreams.”

When it comes to the environment, Lea said, action needs to be taken immediately. She hopes the protest raises awareness and inspires others to make a change.

“We need to act now. If we don’t act now, things are going to come later and it’s going to start a chain reaction that humanity can’t stop,” Lea said. “Humanity started this, so we need to stop it immediately, or else we won’t be able to. Our planet is dying.”