Contingent Joins Country's Largest Climate Rally
By Anne Berman '15
and 50,000 protestors crowded onto the National Mall in Washington,
D.C. on Sunday, Feb. 17, in what has been heralded as the
largest climate change demonstration in U.S. history.
With between 35,000
and 50,000 protestors crowded on the National Mall,
the February 17 rally was the largest climate change
demonstration in U.S. history.
If approved, the Keystone
XL Pipeline would likely travel through parts of
Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas,
Oklahoma and Texas.
of about 50 Smith students, faculty and others in the college
community stood among them.
Organized by climate activist
groups such as 350.org and Sierra Club, the rally was meant
to hold President Obama to his promise of taking action on
climate policy. According to Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org,
the rally was specifically timed “to give [President Obama]
the support he needs to block Keystone Pipeline XL,” a controversial
proposal to build an oil pipeline to transport synthetic
crude oil from Alberta, Canada to U.S. destinations.
pipeline project would have “devastating environmental consequences
if built,” avers L. David Smith, professor of biological
sciences, who teaches marine biology and courses in environmental
science and policy, and who attended the rally.
“President Obama has a moral obligation to use an executive order to oppose Keystone
XL,” says Monique Gagne ’13, a member of Smith’s Green Team, who caught a ride
to the capital on one of five buses from Western Mass. “It would be almost suicidal
to continue to burn the dirtiest fuel out there when there are cleaner alternatives.”
“I have faith in President Obama,” says Alicia Johnson-Kurts ’16, also a Green
Team member, “but he needs to step up and more actively look for renewable sources
because oil is a thing of the past. This is a global issue. If we continue to
degrade the environment there will be nowhere to go.”
Johnson-Kurts, who is from Vermont,
was inspired by the huge number of youth at the rally, she
said, and by the fact that people from all over the country
showed up. Her mother has long been involved in social justice
activism, and climate justice has always been “in my mentality,” she
Gagne, an engineering
student who also grew up in an environmentally conscientious
household, thinks about sustainable design and making ethical
choices, while acknowledging the challenges of responsibility.
“Sometimes it is easier to make money being less ethical,” she admits. “One of
the reasons I decided to go to the rally is that I believed in the value of the
numbers—that if enough people were in attendance, how could we be ignored?”
Gagne also attended the Washington
rally because she has family members in Canada who she feels
are being given misleading information about the pipeline’s ability
to create lasting jobs.
“When I first heard about the pipeline I thought it was a good idea,” she explains, “because
getting oil from Canada sounds better than getting it from the Middle East, right?
But it’s important to educate people about the truth.”
Gagne joined the Green Team
this year. “I think it’s important for students to
critically engage each other about issues like climate change,” she says, “for
us to take advantage of this amazing community we have while we can. Being knowledgeable
about environmental issues isn’t just for Green Team members: the Investment
Club, and all economics and geology majors need to be a part of these conversations.
After what they witnessed in
Washington, D.C., on February 17, Gagne, Johnson-Kurts and
Smith are cautiously hopeful about the future of climate
Above all, they see no other
option but to keep fighting.