Students and faculty alike ditched their winter coats and flocked outside Saturday to study, work or simply enjoy the sunshine and warm temperatures. But for environmental activists, this sudden increase in temperature was no blessing — it served as a reminder of global warming and the effects of climate change seen each day.
That afternoon, hundreds gathered to rally for a cleaner planet and to promote a healthier future for generations to come. Bearing signs with slogans such as “listen to the 97% of climate scientists,” “respect your mother” and “there is no Planet B,” protesters marched from downtown Ann Arbor to the Diag, where they heard from an array of speakers passionate about promoting protection of the environment and public health.
Engineering sophomore Lyndsey Covert, member of Epsilon Eta, the professional environmental fraternity on campus that co-sponsored the event, explained the importance of mobilization and the encouragement of community members to get involved in issues that matter to them.
“I think that the most important part of activism like this is just getting the word out to people who don’t really understand,” she said. “It’s just mobilizing to get people who aren’t really engaged in the movement curious about it, and maybe the more people that we have informed, the more people we have who are trying to do what’s right for the planet and the people who live on it.”
The rally came one day after the United States Senate confirmed the appointment of Scott Pruitt to the Environmental Protection Agency. Environmental activists expressed their concerns about the actions Pruitt has taken that they feel will potentially harm the well-being of the planet.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D–Dearborn) was the opening speaker at the event, where she highlighted these arguments opposing Pruitt’s policy.
“We now have a director of the EPA that says that global warming isn’t real,” she said. “His entire career has been dedicated to undermining the agency he was appointed to lead and opposing the laws he was asked to enforce. It’s scary — he’s the poster boy of rolling back environmental safeguards to benefit polluters and irresponsible business practices.”
Dingell further discussed issues that are even more concerning to environmental activists of Michigan specifically, such as the Flint water crisis, Enbridge Line 5 pipelines and the Great Lakes nuclear waste dump.
Another common theme throughout the rally was the promotion of the reality of climate change and the statistics used to argue for its existence. Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor explained that with an increase in average warmer temperatures, at night and during the day, there has been a nationwide increase in precipitation and shorter winters.
“We have more precipitation over the last 60 years, 45 percent more precipitation each and every year,” he said. “That is dozens of Michigan Stadiums filled with water that we have in our community because of climate change, and it’s something we have to address.”
According to Taylor, the city has been working to promote environmental awareness and protection with methods that include increasing solar energy use throughout Ann Arbor and improving transportation infrastructure to help reduce emissions. In 2012, City Council unanimously passed its Climate Action Plan with the hope of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the long-term goal of seeing a 90 percent decrease by 2050.
With the efforts of local governments like the one in Ann Arbor, speakers urged attendees to strive to create even more change. They explained the importance of coming together to rally, to organize and to promote issues like protecting the environment.
During his presentation, state Rep. Yousef Rabhi (D–Ann Arbor) asked citizens at the rally to look at the American flag waving behind them on the Diag and to understand its multifaceted importance in promoting all people and causes.
“That flag does not stand for greed, it does not stand for pollution, it does not stand for a climate that is warming,” he said. “That flag stands for our national parks. That flag stands for clean air and clean water. And someday soon, I know that that flag will stand for the nation that will take a lead in climate change fighting in this world.”
This sort of leadership is one that is encouraged at events such as Saturday’s rally, and one that often begins with the individual. Business senior Anna Norman explained how crucial it is all people take action to promote ideas they are passionate about.
“It’s definitely a time for active engagement,” she said. “I think a lot of us say that we care about these issues, but unless you leave your house on a Saturday and participate, you’re not really doing your part.”
Following the rally, participants were invited to participate in advocacy activities in the Dana Natural Resources Building. Participants were given prompts to make phone calls and write letters to legislators, and in another room a large chalkboard with the “5 Pillars of Waste Reduction” was available for attendees to write statements about what they will do to improve on the pillars of refuse, reduce, reuse, repair and recycle.