Last Friday students from across Europe skipped class to demand that their politicians take action to stop climate change. The movement originated in Sweden, where young activist Greta Thunberg began leaving school once a week for sit-ins at the Swedish Parliament to demand that the government address environmental issues. Inspired by her protests, young people in Britain founded what has now become a global movement known as Youth Strike 4 Climate. The UN’s alarming October climate change report—which anticipated consequences as early as 2040 if carbon continues to be emitted at the same rate— brought new urgency to the movement. Despite pushback from some politicians, including Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May, thousands of European students engaged in Friday’s demonstrations.
“British PM says that the children on school strike are ‘wasting lesson time,’” Thunberg tweeted Friday morning. “But then again, political leaders have wasted 30 yrs of inaction. And that is slightly worse.” Progressive Democrats in the United States Congress are also calling for dramatic change in the government’s approach to climate policy with a resolution known as the Green New Deal drafted by New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts Senator Edward J. Markey. Among its many environmental, social and economic goals, the resolution most notably calls for shift to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions over a ten-year period. The plan is full of highly ambitious proposals, but critics say it simply isn’t technologically feasible. Congressional supporters of the Green New Deal counter that their intention is not to hammer out logistics but to transform the climate change debate.
Although liberal Democrats are determined to move the Green New Deal to the top of their party’s agenda, their plan can’t get anywhere without the support of the Democratic leadership. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has not expressed an intention to bring the resolution to the floor for a vote. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer also has environmental policy goals, but she too has faced obstacles as she’s tried to implement her agenda. On Feb. 14 the Republicancontrolled State Senate voted down her overhaul of Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Whitmer’s plan would have shifted the agency’s priorities and added new offices focused on clean water, climate change and environmental justice. It also would have eliminated panels responsible for protecting the interests of industries, the main concern for Republicans.
Maintaining that these panels are necessary to prevent overreach, Republicans opposed to the measure have expressed willngness to work with Whitmer on reshaping the DEQ if she keeps the oversight mechanisms intact. While politicians and activists debate environmental policy across the country and the world, Hope College has made its own efforts to promote sustainability. Director of Hope’s Office of Sustainability, Michelle Gibbs, explained that Hope has taken significant steps to reduce the campus’s carbon footprint even as the college has grown and enrolled more students. The Bultman Student Center and the Jack Miller Center received Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Certification, and Hope is aiming for the new Campus Ministries Building to achieve the same status.
“I think it’s really important for every student graduating to have a basic understanding of sustainability no matter what career path they plan on going down,” said Gibbs. “The choices each of us make on a daily basis can have impacts long into the future.”