Climate Change Activists at CU Boulder Proclaim Action is Needed Now

Daily Camera
by Lucy Haggard

Time is growing critically short to combat the causes and effects of climate change, in the opinion of protesters who turned out Friday to shine a brighter light on what they see as a global crisis overdue for confronting.

Dozens of people, students and community members alike, gathered at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Norlin Quad. The protest occurred simultaneously with one in Denver, both organized by the Colorado Youth Climate Coalition.

Since the international climate strikes on Sept. 20, a handful of determined strikers have gathered almost weekly on campus. They join the Fridays For Futures movement, which young climate activist Greta Thunberg established in 2018 to motivate policymakers to respond to climate change’s impacts. 

Though the Boulder protests fluctuate in size from week to week, Paul Rastrelli, one of the organizers, said the activists are prepared to continue until they see CU’s administration responding effectively to climate change.

Their requests are the same as the first strike months ago. They want CU to join thousands of other educational institutions in declaring a climate emergency; update the university’s emissions targets from an 80% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050, to total carbon neutrality; be transparent in how CU invests its endowment — which is funded in part by student fees — and implement a sustainability plan like the one Regent Lesley Smith is currently drafting.

As of Thursday night, activists are two steps closer to achieving these goals. CU Student Government’s Legislative Council passed “A Resolution Declaring a Climate Emergency” and endorsed the strikers’ demands. The resolution also encourages CU’s regents to set up a required sustainability class for students by fall 2020, following a similar requirement on the Colorado Springs campus. 

CUSG is sending the document not just to CU administration, but also to Colorado lawmakers and other Pac-12 schools to effect change on a wider scale, too. Sara Altshuler, Legislative Council president and a sponsor of the resolution, said that this is just the first step toward a more proactive climate response. 

“Hopefully this will inspire similar resolutions elsewhere, but also substantive changes,” Altshuler said. “We need to focus on the issues that will arise thanks to climate change, like food insecurity, and provide steps to solve these sorts of problems.”

Almost simultaneously, the Boulder Faculty Assembly passed its own resolution in support of CUSG’s action and joined them in declaring a climate emergency. The BFA resolution asks CU leadership “to follow our students’ lead” to take action.

“We express our admiration for the courage, the moral and political leadership, and the wisdom that our students are demonstrating on this issue,” the BFA resolution stated.

Bearing the “burden” together

A 2017 report by the American Psychological Association highlighted the increase in mental health issues that people will likely experience as a direct result of climate change. The report determined that while climate change can cause acute and chronic conditions, including increased rates of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and feelings of loss, addressing climate change will also address the psychological turmoil it causes.

This year will break another record in carbon dioxide emissions. To say that climate change is an overwhelming concern to the increasing number of people focused on both its causes and effects is an understatement.

Michael Jacobs, a climate activist working with Boulder-based Earth Guardians, was one of Friday’s protesters. Jacobs, who goes by “MikeyJ” in activist circles, noted that if this was the 1970s, it would be okay to make slow changes to move toward sustainability. But that’s just not reality.

“We’re running out of time,” Jacobs said. “Going halfway isn’t enough. Nothing will suffice but the most ambitious plan.”

Jacobs said that it’s so easy to burn out as an activist. Yet he and many of Friday’s protesters noted that they show up to these events precisely to counteract the emotional strain. Rastrelli, one of the organizers, said that the community created at these gatherings keeps a lot of people motivated to keep up their work.

“The young generation understands they have been failed,” Rastrelli said. “That’s such a burden for a kid to bear. Yet instead of despairing, we’re finding solace with each other.”

‘We did it wrong’

This latest wave of climate activism blends environmentalism with other social justice issues like food insecurity, income inequality and civil rights. Friday’s protest began with a land acknowledgement ceremony, noting the tribes that inhabited the campus’ land before white settlers came in during the 1800s. Jacobs emphasized the importance of listening to indigenous knowledge and putting their voices at the forefront of discussions.

“They did it right for generations,” Jacobs said. “We did it wrong super quickly.”

Protests are not the only place for people to feel solidarity and support as they come to grips with climate change. Young Women’s Voices 4 Climate, based in Boulder, is just one group that (cq: helps kids think about climate change and understand how to can communicate about it. 

Thirteen-year-old Uli Miller, one of the group’s members, took part in the Friday protest. Miller joined others from YWV4C in wearing a butterfly costume, to symbolize the potential for the world to grow, as it responds to the climate crisis.

“If a dove represents peace, a butterfly represents change,” Miller said. “Change is inevitable. But making it beautiful is a choice.” Read more …

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