Students represent local issues at People's Climate March

Hundreds of SU and SUNY-ESF students marched alongside more than 300,000 other demonstrators in New York City at the largest climate change march ever.

At the People’s Climate March, students from Syracuse University and SUNY-ESF called for their universities to stop investing in fossil fuels, as well as other ways to make their campuses more sustainable.

“Let’s go down here and get energized. But then, when we come back it’s our responsibility to that bigger movement to do the things that we need to do on our campus and in our local communities,” said Ben Kuebrich, a leader of Divest SU and ESF.

Photo: Valerie Crowder

He points out the biggest statement students can make is to encourage their universities to divest in fossil fuels – oil, coal and natural gas. His organization works to persuade SU to stop investing 10 percent of its $1 billion endowment in fossil fuels. But their efforts haven’t proven fruitful. Despite the Student Association’s and the University Senate’s passage of a resolution to divest, the administration has refused to shift the university’s investment to clean energy.

The university has installed solar panels on the roofs of some South Campus apartments, as well as water bottle refilling stations in certain buildings. Kuebrich says this is important. “But to do that and still invest $100 million into BP and Exxon and coal companies and natural gas seems to me a little bit hypocritical,” he said, pointing out that his group has sent 10 emails to Chancellor Kent Syverud without a response.

By marching in a national demonstration, students aim to grab the administration’s attention. Michael Kelly, a member of Divest SU, hopes that “if the administration sees students care about this march – that they’re willing to drive down here and march all day – then they will change their minds.”

For students who’ve never participated in a massive demonstration, the march will inspire them to voice their opinions without fear of suppression, said Colton Jones, president of Students of Sustainability. He says the movement to curb the causes of climate change belongs to younger generations.

“As students, as passionate, intellectual individuals, I think that it is our duty to stand up and fight for those things – fight for this to be addressed, fight for this to be changed,” Jones said, adding that students collectively have the power to make change.

Demonstrators walked a two-mile-long route, which began at West 86th Street, ran along the west side of Central Park, turned through Columbus Circle and eventually ended at the intersection of 11th and West 34th Streets.

The march precedes today’s UN Climate Summit, which Secretary General Ban Ki-moon requested. More than 120 heads of state, including President Obama, are discussing steps they can take to mitigate climate change.

Members of Syracuse’s Sierra Club organized three buses to the march. Laurie Walker, who’s with the organization, traveled on the student bus. Mingling with students who actively work to combat climate change inspires older generations who’ve been working on this for years, she said.

“Climate change can get very depressing at times,” said Walker. “So, I think when you see the young take a hold of something like this and really march it forward, it’s very heartwarming and hopeful.”

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