Boise school board member, climate activist arrested in NYC protest

Boise School Board member Shiva Rajbhandari was arrested on Monday in New York City as part of a global wave of protests in recent days demanding that leaders keep the remaining fossil fuel resources in the ground.

Rajbhandari was arrested in the Financial District at a protest in front of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Tens of thousands of people have protested in New York in recent days.

Rajbhandari told the Idaho Statesman he was charged with blocking pedestrian traffic and failure to disperse after being commanded to, and was held by police and taken to jail for about 4.5 hours.

Ella Weber, a 2020 Boise High graduate who managed Rajbhandari’s 2022 school board race, was also arrested and charged with obstructing traffic. She is a senior at the University of Idaho in Moscow and told the Statesman 150 people were arrested as part of the Financial District demonstration.

In an interview, Rajbhandari, the youth climate activist who started as a freshman at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in August, said global leaders are not working quickly enough to change the economy and end reliance on carbon-emitting energy sources.

“Playing by the rules has not worked,” said Rajbhandari, who attended the United Nations climate summit in Egypt last year. “Storms are raging stronger. Fires are hotter. Floods are more severe, heat waves more deadly, and nothing has changed. Our world leaders still refuse to phase out all fossil fuels, President Biden still refuses to call the climate crisis what it is — a climate emergency — and we are still spiraling toward massive, catastrophic global warming.”

Two Boise High graduates were arrested at a climate protest in New York City on Monday. Ella Weber, fourth from left, is a student at the University of Idaho in Moscow. Shiva Rajbhandari, sixth from left, is a freshman at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a member of the Boise School Board.

Rajbhandari’s arrest took place during Climate Week NYC, a gathering of governmental and private sector leaders to discuss the climate crisis that is in partnership with the United Nations General Assembly. Speakers at the conference include California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Maryland Gov. Wes Moore, both Democrats. The conference is sponsored by major corporations, including Audi, BMW, the Northeast public utility National Grid and Visa.

Rajbhandari said he has been frustrated with fossil-fuel corporations’ participation in climate talks.

“I remember how dystopian it was to have a world climate conference run by fossil-fuel executives,” he said. “We know the only way we can stop the climate crisis is to get rid of fossil fuels. We have no other option. Ultimately, I think largely because of the presence of the lobbyists and their leadership within the (UN summit in Egypt) they couldn’t even agree on phasing out all fossil fuels.

Last year’s UN summit did not include commitments from countries to slash emissions to the levels scientists say is needed to abate severe warming, but did result in agreement to pay poor countries grapple with climate-induced disasters.

In March, Biden approved the Willow project, a massive oil enterprise in the Alaskan Arctic that could result in 576 million barrels of oil over 30 years. Politico pegged the emissions from the project as the “equivalent of adding two new coal-fired power plants to the U.S. electricity system every year.” The move prompted intense anger from the environmental left, as Biden had promised no new drilling on federal land during the 2020 campaign.

When he took office, he issued a moratorium on new leases, but was countered by a Trump-appointed Louisiana judge five months later, who overturned his efforts. Then he endorsed the Inflation Reduction Act, which has invested heavily in clean energy while also re-opening federal lands to drilling auctions.

In recent months, Biden has taken a different tack, blocking future drilling on large swaths of tundra in Alaska, millions of acres in Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico, and six million acres of ocean in the Gulf of Mexico.

Since 2018, the U.S. has been the largest producer of oil in the world.

“President Biden has broken records with what he’s done on the climate crisis,” Rajbhandari said. “And still, it’s not enough ... He needs to declare a climate emergency, to commit to phasing out all fossil fuels as fast as possible. He needs to use the Defense Production Act to lower the cost of clean energy. He needs to create a civilian climate corps. He needs to stop all drilling on public lands and all offshore drilling and revoke the permit for the Willow project. And he can do all of these things with a stroke of the pen.”

Rajbhandari was elected to a two-year seat on the Boise School Board last September, becoming the first student ever elected. Since beginning his freshman year in North Carolina in August, he has opted to attend meetings virtually, which School Board President Dave Wagers has expressed “concern” about.

Rajbhandari said he will “do anything necessary by any means necessary to stop the climate crisis as long as it’s peaceful, and I think that the voters who elected me in Boise will support that.”

Since attending college, the freshman said he has helped start a local chapter of the Sunrise Movement, a youth organization, and is working to organize a campaign called the National Green New Deal for Public Schools.

Two Boise High graduates were arrested at a climate protest in New York City on Monday. Ella Weber, left, is a student at the University of Idaho in Moscow. Shiva Rajbhandari, right, is a freshman at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a member of the Boise School Board.

Boise students join national climate action

On Friday, students from high schools around Boise walked out of class and marched to the Idaho Statehouse as part of the Fridays for Future movement, made well known by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg.

Seventeen-year-old twins at Boise High Nikita and Nicholas Thomas were two of the event’s organizers, and told the Statesman they walked out of class, to the Statehouse and to the headquarters of Idaho Power on West Idaho Street to protest the public utility’s efforts to decrease the amount of money electric consumers who sell their own rooftop solar back to the grid receive in compensation. Nikita Thomas said around 30 others joined them.

Nicholas Thomas said the company’s efforts are about making money.

“In reality, they’re just trying to protect their profits because they make a lot more money if they can sell all the energy themselves,” Thomas said.

An Idaho Power spokesperson, Jordan Rodriguez, previously told the Statesman the company is “trying to achieve a fair and accurate valuation of customers’ exported energy.”

Disclosure: The Idaho Statesman pays Jordan Rodriguez, a spokesperson for Idaho Power, to write a fishing column for the Statesman.