Chanting and impassioned speeches could be heard from over 100 people gathered to raise awareness about climate change and environmental justice at Park Central Square on Sunday.
The Springfield Climate Strike was held in conjunction with the Global Climate Strike, which took place in over 150 countries from Sept. 20-27.
People of all ages attended the rally and held signs displaying messages like, “Save the earth” and “God’s creation is in crisis.” One young boy in a Spiderman suit held a sign that read, “Be a superhero, save the planet.”
“No more coal, no more oil, keep your carbon in the soil,” the crowd chanted.
Sean Atkins, senior political science major, helped organize the event.
“We are going backwards on the issue at a time where, more than ever, we need to be going forward,” Atkins said.
According to a 2018 Pew Research study, 67% of U.S. adults believe the government is doing too little to combat climate change. However, many Democrats and Republicans propose different solutions to the problem and may disagree on the severity of the issue.
Democratic presidential candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have proposed the Green New Deal as a comprehensive solution to climate change and environmental justice issues.
According to the “Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 C” by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, carbon emissions must be cut by 40-60% by 2030 to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Natural disasters such as wildfires, severe storms and floods are seen as a result of the changing climate.
“It’s about restructuring our economy and democratizing our economy in a way that addresses these issues,” Atkins said.
Making the transition away from fossil fuels would decrease U.S. reliance on foreign energy and reduce carbon emissions, which causes global warming and climate change.
“We really only have a few remaining years to be able to reduce carbon emissions to an extent that we’ll be able to avoid the worst impacts of climate change,” Atkins said.
At the Springfield Climate Strike, there were many references to the Green New Deal on posters, t-shirts and in speeches.
“We know that the roots of climate change are the patriarchy, colonialism, capitalism and racism, which is why we need a Green New Deal to not only combat the climate crisis, but also the growing inequalities in our nation and world,” said Amy Ramirez, an MSU graduate student and representative of the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led environmental advocacy group. Ramirez was one of the speakers at the rally.
The idea of a Green New Deal has been met with controversy from Republicans, stating that the proposed legislation would allow for too much government intervention, which is counter to the idea of limited government, a foundational principle of conservatism.
“As the issue becomes more urgent, we’re going to see that we have no other choice than government intervention,” Atkins said.
Many corporations are moving to reduce their carbon footprint of their own accord, without intervention from the government.
Atkins argues, however, that though this does good for the environment, it does little to address systematic racial or economic inequality.
“They have an economic incentive to foster climate change more because they’re so embedded within the fossil fuel industry and into heavy carbon emission industries in general,” Atkins said. “As long as the money is there, they’re going to continue to do what’s best for their short-term profits.”
Because economic freedom is a pillar of the Republican party, many Conservatives have embraced the idea of moving toward renewable energy to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign energy, according to a 2018 Pew Research study. However, 57% of republicans think policies aimed at reducing carbon emissions can be harmful to the economy.
Atkins said taking the abstract idea of climate change and humanizing it will increase the salience of the issue in people’s minds.
“Start out with simply pointing out the facts,” Atkins said. ”Show them the reports that we are experiencing warming at an unprecedented rate, and that basically, every climate scientist agrees that we are in a period of man-made climate change.”
According to NASA’s website, 97% of climate scientists agree that humans are causing climate change.
“We’re all impacted by climate change in very direct ways, it’s increasing massive storms, increasing the rate of hurricanes, but it’s also making it harder to grow crops, increasing the spread of disease, increasing conflict, as we’re experiencing our first climate refugees,” Atkins said.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has acknowledged “climate, environmental degradation and natural disasters increasingly interact with the drivers of refugee movements.”
“I’m really concerned that the governments in Europe and North America, that are going to be less directly affected by climate change for a little while, are just going to shut these refugees out,” Atkins said.
Atkins said the US does not have asylum laws for climate refugees.
Mia Sethi, senior economics and religious studies major, and international student from India, attended the event. For her, the most pressing environmental issue is the international water crisis.
“People over there are using tokens from the government to get water, which is insane to think about because that’s my home,” Sethi said. “There are people outside of our neighborhood that need trucks to come in and give them water. They have to decide between using that water to wash dishes, or drink or take a shower.”
There is significant common ground on the issue of climate change, sophomore religious studies major Maya Speckhard said, though it has become a token issue of the democratic party.
“In the end, everyone, regardless of their political party, would be in trouble if the earth started to die or continues dying at the rate that it is,” Speckhard said. “Eventually at some point, someone has to look at someone else and say, ‘We have to put our differences aside about this.’”
Atkins encourages young people to organize by joining activist groups, writing congressional representatives, taking part in demonstrations and making personal steps toward reducing, reusing, and recycling.
“Every little bit helps,” Atkins said. “If you can make yourself slightly more green, that pays dividends in the future, setting an example for everybody else.”
Atkins emphasized that climate defeatism is just as dangerous as climate denialism.
“When we organize together, we have so much power,” Atkins said.