Wednesday morning, a large banner was hung on the east side of a smokestack in the University of Michigan’s Central Power Plant, reading “Climate strike walkout 3/15”. It is currently unknown which group is responsible for making and displaying the sign. The act was not sponsored by the Washtenaw County Climate Strike.
The banner is now one of the many signs around campus in support of the Washtenaw County Climate Strike. On Friday, hundreds of environmental activists will be meeting on the Diag to join the Washtenaw County Climate Strike to make a statement on the pressing issue of climate change. Students are being urged to walk out of class at 11:11am for the 12:00pm event as a reference to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s statement that was made last October. It warns there are 11 years left to successfully mitigate the worst effects of climate change. For those who are not able to leave class, they are asked to wear green to show their support.
In preparation for the event, sidewalks and buildings around campus have been chalked with the words “#ClimateStrike” and “Climate Strike 3/15.” There are also several large posters detailing the time and mission of the strike on the sign displays near the Diag, as well as signs reading “#ClimateStrike” on overpasses on I-94 and US-23 highways.
Rackham student Noah Weaverdyck has been an active organizer of the Washtenaw County Climate Strike. In an email interview regarding the banners around campus, Weaverdyck said it was gratifying to see how well the climate strike has caught on.
“We didn’t expect (the climate strike) to resonate so much that someone would climb the power plant in support,” Weaverdyck wrote in an email interview. “It’s pretty appropriate too, since U-M itself is investing heavily in expanding fossil fuel use at the power plant without any plan to transition it to alternative fuels like the President’s previous climate committee recommended four years ago.”
Weaverdyck criticized the University’s plan to expand the power plant in order to reduce carbon emissions.
“The fact that they are claiming the power plant expansion will help us reach carbon neutrality when their emissions calculations are known to be faulty only makes the banner placement there more apt,” Weaverdyck wrote.
Ultimately, the strike is a call to action for the Ann Arbor area, and it is one of almost 1,000 climate strikes scheduled across the nation for this Friday. These climate strikes have been started and led by 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, a climate activist from Sweden. Thunberg started a movement called “Fridays For Future” which urges students to demand action in climate change policy by holding strikes on Fridays, instead of attending school.
The organizers of the Washtenaw County Climate Strike, as well as this climate movement in general, believe that striking is an important part of making an impactful statement.
LSA senior Olivia Perfetti is the policy chair for Students for Clean Energy and on the planning committee for the strike. She believes that students should try their best to walk out.
“This is a pretty minimal detraction from our education,” Perfetti said. “I even find that most (professors) are pretty receptive to this.”
Naina Agrawal-Hardin, a sophomore at Washtenaw International High School, has been one of the lead organizers of this event. Agrawal-Hardin echoed the same sentiments as Perfetti. She believes fighting for a sustainable future is essential for being able to put education to good use.
“It is unfair that we are expected to prepare for a future that is being stolen from us,” she said.
The organization of the Washtenaw County Climate Strike has been a collaboration between local high school students and University of Michigan students, and they have been meeting twice a week since mid-February to plan this event. The leadership shown by the high schoolers exemplifies the passion of the younger generation to attempt to fix the issues presented by climate change.
Agrawal-Hardin believes the involvement of the younger generation is crucial to addressing this issue, and she hopes presenting a unified voice through this climate strike will deliver the necessary change.
“A lot of people in power do not talk about (climate change) because they profit off of inaction,” Agrawal-Hardin said. “Raising awareness among youth, who are going to be the most affected, is what I believe is the singular most important thing we can do to work towards a more sustainable future. (The strike will) demonstrate that we, the youth, need a hope for a future that can sustain us and can sustain our families. We demand that. We demand that from politicians and corporations … Bringing the voices of young people together to form a coherent, unified demand is a really important thing to do.”
Perfetti hopes the climate strike will spark action in the University, which has been ranked as one of the Big Ten schools with the weakest goals for reducing emissions.
“I have been here four years now, and I have been both really impressed and really disappointed by the amount of action taken at the university level about climate change,” Perfetti said. “I think the University has done a really good job facilitating discussion about climate change … I’ve learned a lot about it,” Perfetti said. “(But) I feel like I have seen very little tangible action policy wise from the administration. A major step forward this year has been the creation of the commission on carbon neutrality, but there are still some pretty major problems with (it) … with one of the main ones being that there is no date set for carbon neutrality.”
The climate strike will feature many notable speakers.
Michelle Deatrick, chair of the Washtenaw County Environmental Council and one of the featured speakers, is the founder as well as the chair of the Washtenaw County Environmental Council. Deatrick said she felt honored to be asked to speak at the event, and she thinks the strike is an act of passion and love for the earth. Deatrick also believes that addressing the issues of climate change requires collaboration of generations instead of polarization.
“This climate strike is exciting and important,” Deatrick said. “It is grassroots powered, nourished and fed by youth. It has come out of a love for our planet,” Deatrick said. “It is powered by youth, which I think is crucial, but I also think that people like me, who are definitely not youth, need to step up. Our generation needs to step up and work as allies and partners in these movements, because we are in part responsible for what youth are grappling with now and what they will have to deal with when we are long gone from the planet.”
Deatrick also said these climate strikes are happening at a crucial time, as elections are quickly approaching. She believes taking action and pushing elected leaders to take action is essential and the climate strikes will push that agenda.
“I feel like we are reaching a critical point, if we haven’t reached it already. 11 years from now, we will have reached a crucial point at which there will be no turning back,” Deatrick said. “Our human systems fail often at grappling with long term issues. We have seen that with the Gelman dioxane plume here in Ann Arbor. Climate change is another issue with broader implications, and I think that when we are addressing an issue like that, building a movement is crucial.”
The Washtenaw Country Strike released a list of demands that they deem necessary for political leaders to accept and take action on and for all people to internalize and fight for. The demands acknowledged the need for environmental justice, because many groups of people that already face discrimination are facing the worst effects of climate change. Additionally, they called for the end of the use of fossil fuels, the transition to clean energy sources, rapid policy changes, carbon neutrality, strict adherence to necessary climate guidelines and accountability for all groups of people involved.
The climate strike demands also included fixing the issues of the Pall-Gelman dioxane plume and the Flint water crisis, stressing the importance of accessible, clean water. These proposals echo the similar ideals of the worldwide climate strikes, which support the Green New Deal, a progressive environmental plan to address climate change and environmental injustice, and adhere to the recommendations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Deatrick affirmed climate change policy should be dealt with both radically and with smaller steps.
“You do the small stuff where you can, but you also fight at a radical level,” Deatrick said. “I don’t think we have to choose.