Over a dozen local organizations as well as students from JMU, Eastern Mennonite University and Harrisonburg High School will march on Court Square Friday to demand climate justice and an “end to the age of fossil fuels,” organizers of the Harrisonburg Climate Strike said.
The local strike is one of thousands of protests happening in 150 countries around the world this week as a part of a global initiative that encourages young people to demand environmental policy change. Millions of students around the world will vacate their school desks in exchange for the ear of policymakers.
“The point of a strike is a disruption of your normal life,” Mitchell Green, local strike organizer and senior geographic science major, said. “It tells leaders and tells the general public to wake up to this issue. It is urgent.”
The Harrisonburg Climate Strike is largely inspired by 16-year-old Swedish citizen and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Greta Thunberg’s two-week ocean journey to the U.S. on a zero-emissions boat. Green calls her “the face of our movement.” Thunberg’s arrival in New York earlier this month precedes the United Nations summit on climate action.
“I believe that the biggest danger is not our inaction,” Thunberg said to French lawmakers in July. “The real danger is when companies and politicians are making it look like real action is happening when, in fact, almost nothing is being done.”
Nationally, strikers’ goals are to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and to reenter the Paris Agreement, the UN’s framework for dealing with greenhouse gas emissions mitigation, which President Trump withdrew the U.S. from in 2017. Local strike organizers, on the other hand, endorse the “25 by 25 policy,” which seeks to increase Harrisonburg and JMU’s dependence on renewable energy to 25% by 2025.
According to JMU’s latest Facilities Management Sustainability Plan, JMU hopes to reduce energy use in five buildings by 2% through reduced electricity usage in those buildings during largely unoccupied periods by 2020.
JMU’s Environmental Management Club distributed fliers around campus this week advertising their demand that JMU divert more funding toward green initiatives instead of new parking decks and sports stadiums.
“We’ve seen them building tons of new projects,” the club’s vice president, Cierra Utz, a senior biology major, said. “Our logic is that they have the means. They have our money. Why aren’t they doing more?”
Although the university installed solar panels and a wind turbine in 2012, Green said these are primarily used for teaching purposes by the Office of Sustainability, not to run the university.
“Other than the wind turbine, which powers a few classrooms, JMU runs on 0% renewable energy,” Green said. “We’re hoping that JMU wants to be a leader for the future, so we’re trying to negotiate more aggressive changes in terms of renewable energy and our carbon footprint.”
Steven Frysinger, the Environmental Management Club’s faculty advisor for the past 15 years, said JMU needs to “walk the talk” in becoming more environmentally responsible because its students have the most at stake if it “doesn’t get its act together.”
Green said the evidence of climate change is obvious. He cited that Hurricane Dorian is tied for the second strongest storm ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean.
“This is a dire moment in the world’s history, from raging fires to extreme weather events,” Green said.
Cathy Strickler, 75, of Harrisonburg, spent eight weeks in Mississippi offering volunteer aid in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Amid the chaos, she realized the suffering she witnessed there was caused by climate change and decided to take action. Strickler and her husband founded the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley (CAAV) in 2008, made up primarily of retired individuals who host public forums, circulate petitions and encourage lawmakers to understand the science behind the crisis. Strickler has been arrested twice for her activism because of her dedication to “moral courage.”
“It’s got to be worth it,” Strickler said. “And this is most definitely worth it.”
JMU Environmental Management Club President Alyssa Maring, a senior geographic science major, said their partnership with CAAV demonstrates “intergenerational solidarity.”
“The vision that we’re trying to create is the juxtaposition between the older folks and younger folks that are all convening together about this issue that is important to all life on Earth,” Maring said.
CAAV, JMU’s Environmental Management Club and other local organizations ranging from religious groups to Greek Life to political organizations of all affiliations will join student activists as they walk out at 11 a.m. to convene on the Quad and then march in a rally downtown at 12:30 p.m.
“We feel that this protest is more urgent than missing one lecture,” Green said.
The Environmental Management Club has created an email template explaining the protest that student activists can send to their professors if they intend to participate in the walkout on Friday.
“People feel powerless,” Utz said. “Through the climate strike, people have the power to change.”
Contact Brice Estes at email@example.com. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.