State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Columbia Students Join Youth Climate Strike to Demand Action

protesters at youth climate strike at columbia university
Youth Climate Strike protesters wait for the rally to begin. Alma Mater, the beloved Columbia statue, wears a yellow wristband in solidarity.

The air was warm and balmy on Columbia’s Morningside campus this Friday morning. One might even say it was too warm; at 65 degrees, the day was shaping up to be at least 15 degrees warmer than the average high for March 15 in New York City.

Students from the Columbia hub of the Sunrise Movement wore t-shirts and light jackets as they gathered on the steps of Low Library to show their solidarity with the Youth Climate Strike. This unseasonably warm weather in March is just the type of erratic weather that these students have come to expect, and it’s one of many issues that brought them to the strike.

The Youth Climate Strike, a youth-led and organized protest that occurred worldwide, was sparked by Greta Thunberg’s continued strikes from school, which started in August of 2018. Thunberg, a high school student in Sweden, began her strikes alone, sitting on the plaza outside the Swedish Parliament with homemade signs demanding climate action.

High school and middle school students walk up the steps of Low Library to join the college students of the Columbia Sunrise Movement hub.

Since then, youth across the world have joined her cause, culminating in the school strike on the 15th. Naomi Hollard, a senior at Columbia College and leader of the Sunrise Movement at Columbia, said she hopes that the strike will “show our leaders that we mean business, and that they will take climate action at the scale of climate crisis, such as the Green New Deal.”

As the strikers stood on the library steps, a group of about 40 middle and high school students entered campus holding signs. The college students on the steps cheered them on, welcoming them and waving their signs in solidarity. Most of the college students involved in the movement are 18 or will be shortly, and can vote in the next election. But for the kids in high school and middle school, this is the only way for them to express their political concerns and attempt to change the minds of the adults who—for now—control their futures.

Naomi Hollard (right), a Columbia senior and leader of the Sunrise Movement’s hub at the university, speaks with two younger students.

Climate change is an issue of national and international importance, but it’s also personal for some students. Hollard, who is from Wisconsin, says her home state has suffered some of the worst droughts they’ve ever seen, all in the past decade. She also has family in the Caribbean. “The massive hurricanes are a threat to my family and my homeland.”

Another Columbia student echoed Hollard’s concern about drought in the Midwest. Greta Kvittem, a first-year student studying sustainable development and dance, is from Minnesota and grew up in the country, swimming and boating at local lakes with her family. It scares her “to know that all those things that I grew up with might not be there for myself and my kids later in life.”

The younger students gather for a photo to show off their homemade signs.

Like many of her generation, Kvittem grew up learning about climate change, and says it was one of her biggest fears as a child. She was happy to have the opportunity to participate in the Sunrise Movement’s efforts when she came to Columbia. “There’s so many people saying to recycle, reuse, and all that, which is obviously important. But what we need is something on a wide scale, on a national and global scale. To be with a group of people that’s passionate about wanting to do that is just really inspiring.”

Some of the protesters, like Kvittem, are studying subjects like sustainability, ecology, or other climate-related subjects. But the issue is relevant to everybody. When asked if she was studying climate change, Hollard, a neuroscience and behavior major, said, “Nope. Just a human being that’s afraid for their life.”

With college students on one side and younger students on the other, the strikers made an impression. Middle schoolers hold up the Green New Deal banner in the center.
Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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