Saturday, October 23, 2021

'We're running out of time': Student activists gather to demand climate action

October 11, 2021
<p>Michigan State students, senior political science Kevin Hayes and junior social relations and policies Nora Kaltenbach hold signs at the &#x27;Climate 911&#x27; protest in East Lansing on Oct. 10, 2021.</p>

Michigan State students, senior political science Kevin Hayes and junior social relations and policies Nora Kaltenbach hold signs at the 'Climate 911' protest in East Lansing on Oct. 10, 2021.

Photo by Devin Anderson-Torrez | The State News

On Sunday, Oct. 10, students and student activist groups gathered at The Rock on Farm Lane to demand climate action from governments on both a local and national scale.

Students for Cooperation, a student organization dedicated to organizing activism events in support of environmentalism and social justice, organized the march, called the“Climate 911 March.”

“We have a bunch of different groups that decided to band together and make a stand for our future and against our legislators who aren't taking effective action on climate change,” chemical engineer senior Megan Giltmier said.

Students for Cooperation member and political science junior Spencer Leslie said that the new group looks to be a “jack of all trades,” and cover a variety of issues.

“We're starting off with climate issues because climate change is an incredibly pressing matter,” Leslie said. “To be frank, we’re running out of time.”

Also present at the protest was MSU’s chapter of the Sunrise Movement,  a group of young people that aim to stop climate change and create green jobs in the process. James Madison freshman Eli Folts, a member of Sunrise, said that events like the Climate 911 march are important because the climate crisis is becoming increasingly normalized.

Another member, civil engineering junior Julia Rudlaf, said that the movement uses the Green New Deal as a platform or framework and that Sunrise endeavors to “reimagine society in a way that is climate resilient, equitable and sustainable for future generations to live.”

The Green New Deal is an environmental proposal that calls on the government to divest from fossil fuels and curb emissions of greenhouse gases. Environmental geosciences senior Josh Szewczul also said that he supported the proposal, as well as policies involving renewable energy as ways to address the climate crisis. Szewczul wore an ecology flag around his shoulders, a symbol that he said was used in environmental movements in the 1970s.

“We need more people to rally around the fact that the climate is changing, and it's a big problem that we need to solve,” Szewczul said on his attendance at the event.

The student group Sustainable Spartans was also present at the event. Political science senior and Sustainable Spartans president Kevin Hayes said that the group decided to attend the event while picking up trash around campus.

“We actually had a member of our club bring up that there was a Climate March going on today,” Hayes said. “So we were like, ‘Let's pick up trash and then walk to the march … because the world cannot wait.”

Michigan State Rep. Julie Brixie, D-Okemos, spoke in front of The Rock prior to the march. Brixie spoke on the effects of environmental issues in Michigan, including flooding in the Detroit area as a result of extreme weather and instability in the agricultural industry.

“Climate change, global warming we think of as something that sounds partisan," Brixie said. "But, I've been all over Michigan, and even in our rural, most Republican areas, farmers know that things have changed, and farmers know that things are continuing to change." 

Brixie also voiced support for shifting Michigan’s manufacturing industry over to renewable energy, and for Michigan to one day be the leader in renewables.

Shortly after Brixie’s speech, demonstrators began marching through campus. The march ended at Ann Street Plaza, outside of El Azteco, where demonstrators gave speeches from the stage. Topics included voter suppression, the agricultural industry and divestment from fossil fuels.

Biosystems engineering senior Conor Crennel spoke about the environmental consequences of food and agriculture.

“I originally had this huge speech planned and had so many facts and figures. ... But, I don't want to be up here like trying to tell everyone to not eat meat,” Crennel said. “I just want everyone to know how devastating the effect of industrial (agriculture) is on our environment every single day.”

Crennel expressed support for Sen. Cory Booker’s Farm System Reform Act, a bill that Crennel said aims to liberate food systems from corporate monopolies. Among others, Crennel called out Michigan politicians Sen. Gary Peters, Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Rep. Elissa Slotkin for not supporting the bill.

“As their constituents, we need to pressure them and tell them to support this bill to put money and power back into the hands of working class people in our state,” Crennel said.

Fisheries and wildlife senior and co-campaign chair of Spartan Sierra Club Marshall Weimer spoke about the importance of protecting clean water and avoiding pollution. Weimer said that oil pipelines from Canadian company Enbridge should not be considered safe because of Enbridge’s reputation for oil spills.

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Weimer said that these companies need to be removed from our water resources.

Before his speech, Weimer said that he was marching because of a recent report from the International Panel on Climate Change that suggests there is less time to solve the climate crisis than expected.

Natalie Harmon, a comparative cultures and politics sophomore, said that MSU is hypocritical to consider itself an environmentally friendly school while directly contributing to the climate crisis. Harmon called on the university to divest from fossil fuels.

“At universities throughout the country, students are advocating for divestment from fossil fuels,” Harmon said. “So clearly, this is a popular move for the university to take. ... We can be one of the first 10 universities to completely divest from fossil fuels, but we won’t get there until we pressure the Board of Trustees to make that change.”

Kelly MacDonald, an environmental studies and sustainability senior, gave a speech focused on how government corruption leads to environmental damage.

“To those in power, are you going to continue down this path of greed and selfishness and exploitation of people and resources that Mother Earth has nourished for all these centuries?” MacDonald said. 

MacDonald ended the speech by expressing optimism for the future of the environmental movement.

“I believe in the power of community and understanding, and it starts right now,” MacDonald said. “We are here to dial 911.”

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