Millions worldwide participated in a global strike Sept. 20 to demand action on climate change. The worldwide movement encompassed St. Peter, where Gustavus students and members of the Nicollet County community vocalized their desires for change.
“The climate activities today are in response to a May 23 open letter signed by Greta Thunberg and 46 other young climate activists from around the world. They said, ‘The youth have been leading climate activism up until now. It’s time for the adults to join us,” Gladys Schmitz said at the climate rally. Schmitz, a longtime environmental and peace activist, was the first to call for a climate protest in St. Peter.
At the rally, Schmitz spoke from her experience as a School Sister of Notre Dame to make a religious argument for protesting climate change.
“Since the climate crisis affects every single living thing, our common humanity demands we all join together to act and as a person of faith, we are obliged to take care of and be good stewards of the creation God has given us.”
Inspired by Schmitz call to action, Marian Broida, a Professor of Religion and Interfaith Program Coordinator at Gustavus, along with other members of the community joined together to form the Minnesota River Valley Climate Action, a coalition of environmental groups to protest climate change.
Broida helped organize the day of action to prevent what she sees as an impending crisis.
“My anxiety upsurged during this organizing,” said Broida. “I learned so much that I just had no idea about. I wasn’t aware of the tundra burning."
Broida also referred to an article she had read in the New York Times, where environmental scientists raised concerns that increasing man-made fires and deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest could transform the ecosystem from a buffer against climate change into a global warming contributor. A late 1990's computer simulation by the University of Exeter found the change could occur as soon as 2050, though its findings have been heavily debated.
"I was reading an article where some climate scientists were saying the Amazon [Rainforest] is quite close to being a source of global warming. Before the fires, the rainforest was helping prevent climate change, but that's flipping.”
“These are not trivial,” Broida added. “I can’t imagine what life will be like in 20 years, let alone 50 or 100. It astounds me how humanity has such a strong denial mechanism. You hear people making ordinary plans for the future as if nothing is going to change.”
The Minnesota River Valley Climate Action was formed with several other organizations, including Mankato Zero Waste, Living Earth Center, Blue Earth Project, Indivisible St. Peter/Greater Mankato and the student-run Gustavus Environmental Action Commission.
Together, the organizers and community organizations developed events during the day and during the evening so that even people not going on strike could attend. Jane Dow of Mankato Zero Waste held a talk on the benefits of composting at the Living Earth Center at 1:30 p.m. This was followed by a tour of the Living Earth Center Community Gardens by Living Earth Center Director Laura Peterson. Blue Earth Project Founder Paul Ebbenga then led protesters on a street clean up starting at 4:15 p.m.
In the evening, protesters who chose not strike had the opportunity to join the protest, first by attending a talk on agriculture and climate change by local organic wheat farmer Ben Penner at the St. Peter Co-op. At 6 p.m. the climate rally began in Minnesota Square Park.
“It was one of the highlights of my recent years,” said Broida on the rally. “It was just so full of energy and joy… There was a moment where it felt like ‘here comes the cavalry.’ It was amazing.”
Like the previous events, the rally was used as a way to educate protesters on ways to fight climate change. Numerous speakers addressed the crowd including Mankato State University student Emma Fuhrman, high school student Charles Redmond, Blue Earth Project Founder Paul Ebbenga, Climate Action organizer Brianna Baker, four Gustavus student leaders, local educator Tiffanie Jackson and St. Peter’s Minnesota House Representative Jeff Brand. The speakers discussed topics like the intersection of faith and environmentalism, climate change and social justice and government action on climate change.
The rally came to a close with live music performed by Captain Gravitone and the String Theory Orchestra. Organizers estimated that around 500 people came out in support.
“Despite the horrific problem that we were protesting, this was somehow one of the most joyous rallies I’ve ever attended,” said Broida. “It was just a lot of fun.”