Climate Change Marches On
Reed activists organize for largest climate strike in history
Today, September 20, 2019, will be the day of the largest climate strike in history. Today, organized by youth leaders on every continent except Antarctica, millions of people across the world will walk out of their homes, offices, and schools in protest of a global economy heavily reliant on fossil fuels. Among them will be at least several dozen Reed students.
The climate strike movement began last fall, when Swedish 16-year-old Greta Thunberg began boycotting class every Friday to sit outside the Swedish Parliament holding signs proclaiming the crisis of climate change and demanding political action. Her one-woman movement grew exponentially and globally, mainly among teenagers and young adults. The movement’s main demand is simple: that governments across the world enact real change and band together to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees celsius, as per the guidelines set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2018.
In the past several weeks, several student groups on campus, most prominently Greenboard, have been organizing in an attempt to bring campus awareness to this Friday’s monumental worldwide strike. The responses have been overwhelming supportive — nearly half of the student body and even some faculty and staff members signed the petition, according to Greenboard leader and strike organizer David Snower. “I really want to highlight how many professors have been willing to totally change their plans and give up class time so students have a chance to speak their minds about the climate crisis,” he said.
Caroline Hardy is another student organizer who has worked with 350, a global organization involved in the planning of the climate strike. She stresses the importance of student involvement in Friday’s strike. “Climate change will be plaguing us for the rest of our lives to the point that it will affect the trajectory of what we can do with our education once we graduate Reed,” she said. “To not take one day out of our schedule to express our concerns about the state of our future by marching in the world's largest climate strike is a mistake.”
Giselle Herzfeld, a student activist who has also collaborated with 350, expressed the need for institutional support of the climate strike. “We’re not just trying to get as many Reedies to strike as possible, but we’re also trying to get the Reed administration to stand with us and say, ‘This is an important issue, and we support the strike,’” she said in an interview on Tuesday. The type of institutional support for the strike that the organizers hoped for would include campus closure on Friday. However, despite her stated support for the protest, President Bilger said in a letter to students, faculty, and staff on Wednesday that she is “not in the position to universally grant a campus closure for the purpose of the Global Climate Strike.”
This Friday’s march alone, of course, is not going to suddenly put an end to the looming threat of climate change. This spring, global carbon dioxide concentration exceeded 415 ppm for the first time in recorded history; for contrast, the carbon dioxide concentration was below 330 ppm less than half a century ago. This unprecedented increase in carbon dioxide has and will continue to correspond to rising global temperatures and sea levels, as well as greater frequency of extreme weather events. Raising public awareness, then, is one of the major goals of the movement. “The purpose of this strike is to get not only youth but also working adults to join together in global solidarity for this crisis that affects all of us,” said Herzfeld. “We have kind of this collective public denial about [climate change], and we’re not taking the actions that we need to take in the speed that we need to take them.”