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The Grad Activist: Rallying with the Youth Climate Strike

Reflections on last Friday's climate strike.

March 21, 2019

Ingrid J. Paredes is a Ph.D. candidate in chemical engineering at New York University. You can find her on Twitter @ingridjoylyn.

This week we are going to focus on Graduate Students as active citizens, activists, and forces for change in their own community. On Monday, Patrick shared his experiences working in local government. On Wednesday, Neelofer talked with two labor organizers on their work in academia. Check us out on Twitter where we will being highlighting past posts on this topic, too.

“What do we want? Climate justice!
When do we want it? Now!”

Polar vortex. Wildfires. Coastal flooding. The consequences of our inaction on climate change are here. If we don’t act now, they are only going to worsen. Some of these consequences will have a permanent effect on our planet and livelihood.

That’s why young people from all over the world have spent months on strike from school to demand that policymakers address climate change. Last Friday, their largest strike to date took place when more than one million people across 123 countries rallied and marched, calling for, “system change, not climate change.”

While the strike was organized by young climate activists, like Greta Thunberg, Alexandria Villaseñor, and Isra Hisri, crowds were packed with supporters of all ages, including graduate students like myself. I attended the strike with a group of March for Science’s NYC organizers.

Together, the crowd’s energy was high and contagious. Many of the students also attended rallies at or near their schools earlier that day, and now they were ready to converge into one large group that would march from Columbus Circle to the American Museum of Natural History.

As we walked up Eighth Avenue, we passed a group of children standing outside of their school building, their teachers encouraging them to wave at us from across the street. One marcher shouted at them, “This is for you!” We cheered.

But as inspiring as it was to hear those words, I was heartbroken, too. I thought to myself: We shouldn’t have to fight for this; we should have been in school or in the lab or at our desks, but we here we were. As Alexandria said that afternoon: “Why go to school if we won’t have a future?”

It depends on all of us. As a scientist tackling issues in renewable energy, the decision to support the strike came easily for me. Science supports a Green New Deal. And, as academic scientists, we must vocalize support for it. You can join us and sign the open letter in Scientific American, which already has over 200 signatures on it so far. Engaging in conversations with as many people as possible will result in solutions that reflect the many dimensions of the challenge we face, like last semester when March for Science NYC hosted a science policy panel for the public to ask questions about how issues like climate change affect our daily lives, our economy, and our future. The Green New Deal isn’t just about science; it’s centered around people and justice.

Regardless of your academic background, you can get involved on campus and in your community. Learn about environmental justice groups that are already doing work in your state. The March for Science, a network of academic science advocates, also has satellites worldwide. And, of course, vote and encourage other graduate students and undergraduate students you teach or work with to vote, too!

Climate strikes might already be happening in your city – last Friday’s strike was only one in a series of strikes to come the youth have spoken; it’s up to us adults to listen to them.

[Image credit: March for Science NYC.]

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