On Friday, September 20, millions of people from all over the world took to the streets to protest political inaction on climate change. Rallies took place in over 150 countries and on all seven continents, collectively forming what some have described as the biggest global climate protest in history. One of the largest demonstrations, attended by an estimated quarter of a million people, took place in New York City. While Vassar’s Climate Strike rally attendance didn’t quite match those numbers, nearly 500 people joined in over the course of the day, and the on-campus crowd was just as passionate in its call for change.
Vassar’s Climate Strike was organized by Vassar Students for Equitable Environmental Decisions, the Vassar Greens, and Poughkeepsie’s chapter of the Sunrise Movement, a nationwide, youth-led climate advocacy group.
One organizer of the on-campus Climate Strike, Clara Layzer ’20, said the release of last year’s United Nations Climate Change Annual Report, which declared that catastrophic change would occur by 2030 if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced by 45 percent worldwide by that year, has acted as a galvanizing force in climate activism. If we only have 11 years to reverse course, she said, the time to act is now.
Compelled by this sense of urgency, members of the Vassar community, joined by members of the greater Poughkeepsie area, assembled on the Chapel lawn for the daylong strike. Local politicians, student organizers, and religious leaders spoke of the need to swiftly combat climate change.
Some speakers called on politicians to “listen to the scientists,” evoking the words of Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish activist who has become the de facto face of the Climate Strike; others suggested everyday changes that individuals can make to reduce their carbon footprint, such as limiting the use of plastics and reducing meat consumption. Those in attendance also led a procession down Raymond Avenue and staged a “die-in” outside of Main Building to represent the mass extinctions that rapidly rising global temperatures could bring about.
Many of those at Vassar’s Climate Strike were clear in their belief that nothing could be accomplished without radical and sweeping political change. Some of these marchers voiced their support for Vassar’s decision to become entirely carbon neutral by 2030, and pledged to work with the college to ensure that this goal is achieved.
But more than anything, speakers and attendees alike stressed the futility of despair. Climate change, they said, would not be solved by apathy, and if the passionate and numerous crowds that gathered all over the world are any indication of global sentiment, there may be hope yet.