The Environmental Management club organized the Harrisonburg Climate Strike on Sept. 23. 

The Environmental Management Club (EMC), one of the many environmental clubs on campus, is switching its messaging this year.

Rather than “shouting demands” like in years past, as junior Elena Finelli, president of EMC, said, this year’s EMC is about “offering our support as students and citizens,” as well as supporting local organizations, such as Climate Action Alliance of the Valley (CAAV), which focuses on climate advocacy; 50 by 25, which focuses on clean energy; and Vine & Fig, which focuses on sustainability

“[Local organizations] are more established,” Finelli said. “Having two-way support between the orgs helping us, but us helping the orgs is something that’s really important to us.”

On Friday, Finelli led about two dozen people in a climate strike from Wilson Hall on JMU’s Quad to Court Square in downtown Harrisonburg. Finelli said the main goal of the strike was to bring a community of students together to advocate for a more environmentally-friendly community.

The marchers carried signs with slogans advocating for climate-minded policies, with one saying, “Denial is not a policy.” Councilmember Laura Dent, who carried a sign saying “I’m with her” beside an image of the Earth, marched alongside them.

At the Sept. 13 Harrisonburg City Council meeting, Dent proposed a municipal solar ordinance that would require Harrisonburg’s Public Works building to be renovated with solar panels, which was passed by the council. In a recent interview with The Breeze, Dent said the recently passed solar ordinance will be drafted and revisited in October.

At the climate strike, Dent spoke to the crowd outside Court Square and emphasized the importance of voting for environmental policies. The climate strike, held Sept. 23, fell on the first date of early voting in Virginia's midterm elections.

“Vote for the climate advocates who will do what we need for your future,” Dent said.

During the strike, while some climate advocates were voting, Dent said there needs to be more climate initiatives and climate advocates in the Harrisonburg City Council, such as the solar ordinance.

Finelli said the climate strike was designed to focus on climate action — not just at JMU, but in Harrisonburg as well.

“They do go hand in hand,” Finelli said. “Climate action in Harrisonburg is as important as climate action at JMU.”

One of the initiatives that EMC began to work toward last year was a task force with JMU administration to help push for a carbon net-zero plan. After some back-and-forth last spring, JMU administration decided not to go forth with the task force, Finelli said. 

“[The administration] thought we could have had different approaches because they did feel that we were on the offensive, when that’s not the message we were trying to get across,” Finelli said. 

After a few meetings, Finelli said, JMU administration decided they didn’t like EMC’s approach in regard to the task force. 

“It was kind of upsetting because we did put a lot of time going into it,” Finelli said. “Overall, we realized we just needed to re-strategize and restructure our approach.”

The Breeze requested comment from JMU on this matter prior to publication. Following publication, Mary-Hope Vass, university spokesperson and executive director of communications, and Christie-Joy Hartman, professor of integrated science and technology (ISAT) and executive director of the Institute for Stewardship of the Natural World, sent a statement via email to The Breeze. The statement reads, in part:

"I met with the EMC president, Elena, on Monday, and we agreed to regular meetings to pursue a number of opportunities we identified to work on together. Eliminating food waste is one issue, and the students have some great ideas."

This year, Finelli said talks about the task force are still happening, and at the climate strike, Finelli carried a sign with a QR code for a survey asking about people’s opinions on climate change, as well as their satisfaction with JMU’s current sustainability actions. Lizzie Emch (’22), last year’s EMC president and organizer of the 2021 climate strike, said the testimonies will be presented to the administration when EMC meets with them next. 

“We want to continue our passion and the momentum of bringing some environmental change to JMU,” Emch said.

Emch was president of EMC when the task force effort began. It was initially composed of students who met with JMU faculty and administration. They researched topics like environmental policy, finance and climate methods. Emch said they had a few meetings, but those meetings fizzled out at the end of the year. Finelli said that she talked with administration about how EMC can support JMU and spread the word about how JMU is currently doing with sustainability.

In regard to the climate strike, Emch said it’s important to “get the ball rolling again.”

According to JMU’s Recycling and Waste Management website, JMU uses the 6 R’s: rethink, reduce, reuse, repair and restore, redistribute and recycle. JMU’s recycling policy includes indoor and outdoor cans that are solely used for aluminum cans — rather than for plastics, cans and glass as used in previous years due to Harrisonburg no longer accepting plastics and glass recycled together. Compost containers are also available at many of the dining options on campus, according to the website.

In the statement to The Breeze, Vass and Hartman said that in 2022, JMU was ranked No. 27 in Princeton Review's top 50 green colleges.

While it may seem like there’s not much the average JMU student can do, Finelli said she has a few suggestions. While individual efforts are important, she said, working within an organization is, too.

Finelli said she believes the climate strike was a successful event for EMC and the community.

“I would rather have just a couple people there who cared [about the environment] rather than a ton of people who didn’t understand or didn’t care,” Finelli said.

Contact Elle Hart at hart2ej@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.