Climate Change at the Forefront of Protest

Hundreds of demonstrators rallied together at the UC San Diego Climate Action March to advocate against climate change on Friday, Sept. 27 in front of Geisel Library. Organized by the UCSD Green New Deal, the demonstration was held in concurrence with the last day of the week-long Global Climate Strike campaign.

Marching from Geisel, the demonstrators made their way through campus chanting protest slogans against the crisis. The march ended at the Triton Statue at Price Center East, subsequently forming into a rally for students, staff, and faculty to promote climate action and climate justice. 

The UCSD GND network calls upon the university to better teach students about climate change, to create a specific plan to reach carbon neutrality — where greenhouse gas emissions are offset with an equal amount of GHG  removal — by 2025, and to call upon the University of California to create a UC-wide Green New Deal. 

Scientists believe that human activity since the Industrial Revolution has led to an increase in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, higher concentrations of greenhouse gases  have been linked to worsening natural disasters, sea-level rise, and loss of sea ice.

“The warming has created new weather extremes. In about 10 years, the warming is going to amplify by 50 percent,” Scripps Institute of Oceanography professor Veerabhadran Ramanathan said at the rally. “Addressing all the students here, by the time you turn 30, all of your lives will be disrupted [by climate change] … droughts, fires, floods, and a tremendous explosion of airborne and vector-land diseases.”

Along with climate action, some of the speakers discussed the notion of climate justice, framing climate change as more than just an environmental issue. They highlighted how the climate crisis is also a human and civil rights issue, disproportionately affecting people of color and low-income communities, but that these groups are also taking substantive action to fight back.

“People of color and indigenous people have been at the forefront of fighting for climate justice for a long time,” Ethnic Studies professor Shelley Streeby said at the rally. “Indigenous scientists need to be recognized as an important partner to western science. They offer a wealth of knowledge by which we relate to the natural world and include human values.”

In addition to Dr. Ramanathan and Dr. Streeby, the GND network also had University Professional and Technical Employees representative Kate Crouthamel and climate activists and GND organizers Peter Sloan and Yuval Baharav speak at the rally. 

“People taking individual action, even in aggregate, won’t be enough,” Sloan said to the Guardian before the march. “The most important individual action is to join with others to take collective action, calling on the leaders of our institution to make systematic change.”

To date, the university has taken a number of steps to address climate change. According to UCSD’s 2019 Climate Action Plan, the school is aiming to reduce GHG emissions to 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, achieving climate neutrality by 2025, and continuing to certify new and existing buildings under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system.

“Our energy efficiency projects, onsite renewable energy, and purchase of wholesale [zero-carbon] power will all reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, but our 2019 emissions have not been verified by a third party,” Interim Director of Sustainability Michelle Perez said. “We are on track to meet our goals [based on] our 2018 data.”

The university touts their energy management practices and climate-related academic and research programs as exemplifying themselves as bellwethers against climate change. According to a press release by Assistant Director of Strategic Marketing and Communication Christine Clark, UCSD and the UC system have signed the Climate Emergency Declaration with more than 7,000 other national and international colleges and universities. 

“In signing the declaration, UC leaders agreed to a three-point plan that includes increasing action-oriented climate research, expanding education and outreach on environmental and sustainability issues, and achieving climate neutrality,” Clark said. “UC’s $13.4 billion endowment will also be ‘fossil free’ by the end of September, as will its $70 billion pension.”.

Although UCSD is working to meet many climate action goals, the GND believes that the university is not doing enough and claims that the school is failing some of their plans.

“The UC System and UCSD have a lot of sustainability initiatives, however, they are empty promises,” Sloan said. “Every UC campus is supposed to be waste free by 2020, but UCSD is only managing to reduce their waste stream by about 35 percent by next year. There’s also no accountability. When the administration fails to meet this goal, no one is going to be in trouble, no resources are on the lines … it’s an empty goal.”

Perez acknowledges UCSD’s shortcomings in regards to waste, but is hopeful that the school will be able to partner with a company that is building new anaerobic digesters that will break down waste. Nevertheless, both the university and the GND look forward to working together to develop more thorough climate action plans. The GND plans to continue to publicly share student, staff, and faculty concerns to the administration and to promote discussion in various committees. 

The network’s namesake, the Green New Deal, is drawn from U.S. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s comprehensive proposed legislation of the same name. Introduced to Congress in March 2019, the bill seeks to remedy climate change and economic inequality in America. The bill promotes the usage of public resources to transition the economy to have sustainable climate practices.

“Just [congressional] legislation alone, a top-down method, will not be enough,” Sloan said. “We actually need buy-in from every institution and a critical mass of individuals. We can’t just wait for legislators to do it for us; we need to take action in our own institution. That is why we thought of what it means for UCSD and the UC System to participate in a Green New Deal.”

The UCSD GND holds its general body meetings on the first Friday of every month starting on Oct. 4 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the auditorium on the first floor of the Natural Sciences Building.

Photo by Alexandra Fustei, UCSD Guardian Photo Editor.

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