[Read more live coverage of the climate strikes.]
They packed Foley Square and the streets around City Hall, and jammed the stairs leading out of nearby subway stations. They carried handmade signs like one that said, “There is no plan(et) B,” and chanted, “Sea levels are rising and so are we!” Later, they paraded out of the square, headed to another rally at Battery Park.
Frustrated by what they consider officials’ failure to adequately address a crisis, thousands of young people marched through Lower Manhattan on Friday during a day of global climate protests.
Those who rallied said that too little was being done to stem the rise of planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. One test of their message will come on Monday, when world leaders convene at the United Nations to discuss what they are ready to do about climate change.
The crowd totaled at least 60,000, according to an afternoon estimate from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office. In a sign of how difficult crowd sizes can be to pin down, organizers put the figure at 250,000. A permit had been issued for 5,000, prompting some organizers to joke that their efforts to publicize the event had been too successful.
Many of the participants were students who had the blessing of city school officials to take the day off. Schools excused the students’ absence if they had their parents’ permission to take part in the protests.
At Battery Park, demonstrators cheered when Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish activist who shot to global fame for inspiring worldwide student strikes, ascended a stage in the late afternoon and said, “This is the biggest climate strike in the history of the world.”
Ms. Thunberg, who sailed to New York in an emissions-free yacht last month, directed part of her remarks at leaders setting climate policy.
“Change is coming whether they like it or not,” she said, adding, “Do you think they hear us?”
Mina Garcia, 12, of Manhattan said that she was “astounded” by the experience of seeing Ms. Thunberg speak. “She’s able to do so much,” Mina said. “It shows no matter how small you are and how little you feel, you can stand up to someone and make a difference.”
One of the youngest organizers of the New York event was Marisol Rivera, 13, who attends school in Brooklyn. Marisol was 6 when the roof of her house in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood collapsed during Hurricane Sandy, nearly hitting her.
She also has relatives in Puerto Rico whose lives were upended by Hurricane Maria two years ago. The strike in Manhattan was also billed as a “Puerto Rico Day of Action.”
“I feel hopeful seeing the power of all these people here today, calling to end fossil fuels and build a better future for us,” she said.
As the rally began in Foley Square, Mr. de Blasio’s office said on Twitter that “The #ClimateStrike is about our future. Either we have one or we don’t.”
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo issued a statement on Friday that targeted climate change deniers. “Our young people understand climate change is no longer up for debate — it’s reality based in science.” the statement said.
Andy Gao, 16, a junior at Brooklyn Technical High School, said that the recent pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong had inspired him to attend the demonstration in New York.
“They are fighting for their future,” he said, “and people here care about our future, too. If our planet is burnt and polluted, what future will we have? Better to strike today than to stay in school and do nothing about it.”
Ajani Stella, 13, an eighth-grader at Hunter College High School, said that he had been “invested in the movement for fossil fuel divestment.” He said that when he was 10, he had taken the issue to the board of the Teachers’ Retirement System of the City of New York, which, with 200,000 members, is one of the largest pension systems in the United States.
Amid the sophisticated discussions, it was clear that young people were driving the day. Signs dashed off in ballpoint pen or colored marker included insults about President Trump, and riffs on Dr. Seuss (“I speak for the trees!”) and WALL-E, the movie robot that collects trash on a desolate Earth.
But the crowd was a New York crowd, with a range of personalities. The drag queen Lady Bunny, 57, carried a sign that read “I’m Greta’s mom.” (When asked if she was actually Greta’s mother, Lady Bunny joked, “No, I’m her brother Hansel.”)
“We’ve got to call out both political parties on climate change,” said Lady Bunny, who was wearing a blond wig, generous false eyelashes and a blue-and-purple muumuu.
Environmental activists were thrilled by officials’ decision this week to allow the city’s 1.1 million public school students to be excused from class for the protests.
Teachers and other school employees were told they could not attend because the Education Department had determined that doing so would violate rules ensuring a “politically neutral learning environment,” as would schools staging their own protests on school property.
[Teachers in New York City were barred from attending protests.]
Yet at the usual morning drop-off time, elementary school students appeared to be staging rallies led by parents or the students themselves.
“P.S. 10 kids wouldn’t take no for an answer,” said Elizabeth Meister, whose fifth-grader at the school in Park Slope, Brooklyn, helped organize a demonstration at which children waved signs and sat down in their schoolyard for 15 minutes instead of filing in for class.
A planned field trip to a protest nearby had been canceled.
The decision to prohibit school staff members from participating in demonstrations underscored how hard it is to separate the politics of climate change from teaching the science of it — even in liberal-leaning New York, and even in a school system that some experts consider a national leader in bringing climate-related issues to the classroom.
Many critics of the protest, including climate-change deniers, argued that Mr. de Blasio was using classroom attendance to promote a political aim. The New York Post’s editorial board called the decision “out-and-out government sponsorship of a particular point of view.”
Education Department officials did not say how many students missed school to attend the rally. They provided raw attendance figures, saying that 87.4 percent were in school on Friday, compared with 92.3 percent last Friday, a difference of about 53,900 students.
Michael Gold and Azi Paybarah contributed reporting.