Due to the efforts of Zach Burns ’14, Evan Weber ’13, and Isabel Stern ’14, about 50 University students will be headed to Washington, D.C. on Feb. 17 to partake in the Forward On Climate rally. Organizers hope that the rally, in which participants will be protesting the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, will prove to be the largest climate rally in history.
Burns organized a meeting for interested participants on Sunday, Feb. 3, after publicizing the meeting through Facebook and Wesleying.
“It was really well attended,” Burns said. “We were excited. And then afterwards we did logistical planning with buses and funding. There’s a lot of excitement around it.”
Stern described the rally’s mission as an effort to stop projects that are harmful to the global climate.
“This rally is basically keeping this oil in the ground, not letting it be dug up, and it’s also a really cool atmosphere,” Stern said. “There’s tons of speakers from all over, people that are going to be affected by it or who have already been. It’s really moving, and it’s cool, and it’s for a great cause.”
The protest was largely organized by the Sierra Club and 350.org, both grassroots environmental organizations. Burns noted that the rally is specifically targeting the construction of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
“It’s basically to fight against the construction of a huge pipeline that would bring the tar sands oil in Canada down to different places in the United States,” Burns said. “And that’s a step in the wrong direction for what we need to do with energy policy in the U.S. We need to invest in renewable energy, and we don’t need to extract more oil.”
Some University students, including Stern, also attended a rally against the very same pipeline last year. The protest delayed President Obama from signing a piece of legislation that would have allowed the construction of the pipeline this year.
“It’s just a really, really bad idea from a number of different aspects, and I’m an activist, so I believe that protest is a really effective way of getting a lot of people to bring attention to an issue, and I want to try to get as many people from Wesleyan down there as possible,” Weber stated.
Eighteen climate scientists have written letters to President Obama asking him to reject the bill, and participants in this rally hope to convince the President that the public recognizes and rejects the significant environmental consequences that this bill poses. University students such as Weber, Stern, and Burns are bringing this issue to campus by organizing students who support this cause and publicizing the rally.
Burns noted his previous experience with activism through campus organizers.
“I went to a mountaintop removal protest in West Virginia after my freshman year with five other Wesleyan students, and it was the most memorable few days in my life,” Burns said. “We marched up a mountain that was being surveyed by a company for mountaintop removal to say that it’s both environmentally disastrous and aesthetically upsetting.”
Political support for the Keystone XL bill comes from the belief that the pipeline will provide more job opportunities and that it will benefit the American economy. In response to this, Burns stated that climate change should be the most central and pressing matter.
“You’ve got to think further than the next five minutes,” Burns said. “And if you do, and if you read the signs and think about climate change, it becomes the single most pressing issue. It will affect every other issue there is. That’s what compels me to work on it. It will influence everyone in the world.”
Stern, Weber, and Burns all had similar responses when asked why they were so passionate about this cause in particular, among everything going on in the world. Weber noted that there has been a delay in working toward climate change solutions and that further delays will be irreversible.
“There are studies coming out showing that if we don’t take action on climate change soon, we risk the chance of getting to a point where we get the snowball effect where there are so many positive feedbacks from all of our current emissions that we cannot actually stop climate change,” he said.
Stern described the rally as a learning experience and urged any potential supporters to contact herself, Weber, or Burns.
“Going to D.C. [on] Feb. 17, it’s just one day only,” Stern said. “It’s a long day. Five a.m. we’re going to leave, get there by like 11:30, rally starts at 12, rally goes for a while, really cool speakers are there. I went last year not really knowing what I was getting into. You learn a lot and see a lot, and it’s really interesting and you feel like you’re part of something.”