Over 100 students gathered on the Diag Friday afternoon as part of a global climate strike organized by Fridays for Future, a youth-led organization dedicated to fighting climate change. The theme of Friday’s strike was “People Over Profit” and featured speakers calling for climate action centering around social justice.
The event kicked off with live music and educational booths on topics such as the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the ongoing indigenous Landback movement and ways to address climate change through public policy.
Speakers from various student and local organizations then addressed attendees, emphasizing the importance of clean energy and climate justice.
LSA sophomore Lexi Crilley emphasized the “People Over Profit” theme in her speech Friday afternoon.
“Climate justice is social, economic and political justice on all fronts,” Crilley said. “It is racial justice, it is gender equality — and it cannot be achieved without addressing the complex systems of oppression that have created all of these issues.”
Greg Woodring, president of Ann Arbor for Public Power (AAPP), discussed the importance of transitioning to a publicly owned utility instead of relying on a private company. The AAPP organization advocates for a switch to an energy grid that is clean, renewable and owned by the city of Ann Arbor. Currently, the city’s electricity is supplied by Detroit-based DTE Energy, with about half of the company’s electricity supply being generated by coal.
“We can say that we are no longer going to allow a private corporation controlled by a small group of callous and indifferent people to determine what the fate of this world will be,” Woodring said. “We can invest in our future, we can build a new paradigm and we can say that we are no longer going to accept the world as it is.”
Other speakers expressed frustration with the University of Michigan’s lack of communication and collaboration with students on climate justice given the substantial effort student organizations at the University have exerted.
Engineering junior Brendan Ireland said he was frustrated with the University’s lack of progress on carbon neutrality and other climate goals despite its pledge to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040 in May 2021.
“Purely meeting the IPCC goals is really not enough,” Ireland said. “If we’re supposed to be the leaders and best, we have a responsibility not only to meet the goals, but also to help others meet the goals.”
Engineering senior Martin Chown, director of research and development for Students for Clean Energy, recounted a proposal he helped create as a freshman, which called on the University to construct a solar array in the shape of a block ‘M’ to symbolize the University’s commitment to carbon neutrality.
“We confirmed the project was feasible with solar contractors,” Chown said. “We even raised $100,000 for the project. And yet here I am, three and a half years later, no block ‘M’ solar array.”
Chown said he felt this was emblematic of the University’s unwillingness to take student concerns seriously.
“It took three and a half years for this university to process a legitimate student project on carbon neutrality,” Chown said. “It took three and a half years for this university to acknowledge passionate students with novel ideas and fully investigate the plan … I think our experience shows that this university doesn’t seem to appreciate the way the climate crisis impacts people of our generation and our need to urgently and aggressively address it.”
LSA senior Zackariah Farah said he feels it is crucial for the Board of Regents to sit down with student groups and take their concerns seriously.
“Being willing to sit down with us in a meeting, and not just giving us rhetoric, … not just giving us platitudes would be really nice,” Farah said. “(The Board of Regents) should come to the table. They should come to these meetings willing to listen to us and to act according to our recommendation.”
Ireland then read an open letter signed by over 15 environmental advocacy groups calling on the Board of Regents and the University administration to prioritize sustainability and climate justice, especially when it comes to new hires and the appointment of University leaders.
In March 2021, the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality (PCCN) released its final report containing 50 recommendations to put the University of Michigan on track to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2040. The open letter calls on the University to provide more transparency when it comes to its progress on the PCCN’s goals.
“We, the undersigned, expect real, quantifiable, and consistently communicated results in regards to the university’s commitments to divest from fossil fuels as well as the transition to carbon neutrality as laid out by the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality,” the letter reads. “We are deeply disturbed by the insufficient Scope 1 2040 neutrality commitment, which is inconsistent with our larger community’s A2ZERO goals, as well as the international recommendations of the United Nations IPCC reports.”
Outside of the Fleming Administration Building, students chanted “We are unstoppable; a better world is possible.” Eight copies of the letter were placed in the building’s mailbox, each addressed to one of the eight regents. University administrators moved to the new Ruthven Museums Building last month; the Fleming Building is set to be demolished later this semester.
Farah went on to point out the University’s failure to take substantial action to combat climate change and the indifference he observed from the Board of Regents on the issue.
“The University of Michigan should be a leader in many things, including climate justice and climate action, but they absolutely are not,” Farah said. “I’m very frustrated at the moment, but seeing this rally, feeling the energy, I have a lot of hope again.”
Daily Staff Reporters Samantha Rich and Irena Li can be reached at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.