Climate change march fights for climate justice and youth representation


Pamela Smith | Staff Photographer

More than 200 protesters marched through Oakland on Friday afternoon during a climate strike rally, urging climate justice and fossil fuel divestment. Organized by Sunrise Movement Pittsburgh, the protest started on Flagstaff Hill before protesters walked to the Cathedral of Learning.

By Colm Slevin, Staff Writer

More than 200 protesters marched through Oakland on Friday afternoon urging climate justice and fossil fuel divestment. The group chanted, “Divest. Protect. Rebuild” and, “Hey hey, ho ho, fossil fuels have got to go.”

The Climate Strike — which included mostly college- and high school-aged students — started on Friday at about noon at Flagstaff Hill. The protestors then walked through Carnegie Mellon University, on Fifth Avenue toward South Oakland and finally on Forbes Avenue before stopping outside the Cathedral of Learning. Organizers had three primary goals — University divestment from fossil fuels as well as more representation in local government, and that companies immediately convert to green energy or shut down.

The Sunrise Movement Pittsburgh organized the protest alongside the Green Party of Allegheny County, Pittsburghers for Public Transit, Fridays for Future PGH, Fossil Free Pitt Coalition, CMU Sustainable Earth, Pitt Free The Planet, Ohio Valley Environmental Resistance, DSA Ecosocialists, Epsilon Eta Delta Pitt and the Roosevelt Institute from CMU.

Throughout the protest there were numerous speakers — both from Pitt and other local schools — who echoed the rally’s goals and discussed current environmental issues in Pittsburgh. Lauren Posey, a member of FFPC, called the Board of Trustees Ad-hoc Committee on Fossil Fuels a “sham.” The Board formed this committee in June to investigate whether or not the University should divest its $4.3-billion endowment of fossil fuels after years of protests, occupations and presentations from FFPC.

After several months of hearings from investment experts, students, faculty members and financial advisers, the committee published its findings and suggestions to the Board on Feb. 19. It recommended the Board gradually divest by 2035 to avoid between $65 million to $100 million in financial losses, as well as committing to increased transparency with future investments. The Board voted to adopt these recommendations on Feb. 26.

Posey, a first-year environmental studies major at Pitt, said this action from Pitt doesn’t go far enough to stop the effects of fossil fuels, which she called a “poisonous industry.”

“Our campaign has worked since 2014 to push for University divestment from fossil fuels, the primary culprit of climate change,” Posey said. “Failing to vote on the topic of divestment and condescending to all of the students who have worked so hard for climate justice over the years.”

Posey also said Pitt is “passive” and “inactive” toward fighting the climate crisis.

“Stifling bureaucratic passive inaction, the climate crisis won’t wait til 2035,” Posey said. “We know this, and when institutions like Pitt pretend otherwise, they choose profit and violence over our futures. The futures they supposedly exist to better.”

During the protest, organizers dropped a banner at the Cathedral of Learning that said, “Divest. Protect. Rebuild” with the Sunrise Movement’s logo. Pitt police officers told protesters they had to move off the Cathedral steps, and they went to the bottom of the staircase, where they still displayed the banner.

University spokesperson Kevin Zwick said Pitt police temporarily locked down the Cathedral of Learning for “security and safety reasons.”

“Pitt police temporarily closed the doors at the Cathedral for security and safety reasons,” Zwick said. “As dozens of protesters, which included members of the public, attempted to gain access to a facility currently under pandemic-related restrictions.”

Following the protest, Sunrise Movement PGH reported via twitter Friday afternoon that two people were arrested. Cara Cruz, a deputy information officer for the Pittsburgh police, said two people were arrested by Port Authority police, with Pittsburgh police assisting, “on suspicion of spray painting one of their buses.”

Port Authority spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment.

The Sunrise Movement tweeted on Saturday morning that the two people who were arrested were released and that the group was “very happy to hear it.” They also thanked the Bukit Bail Fund — an organization that supports incarcerated people at the Allegheny County Jail — “for working so quickly and tirelessly to get these people out.”

Other young activists spoke at the march as well. Leandra Mira, a 19-year-old Mount Lebanon resident, said she’s been “anxious” about climate change since she was 11, because of the effects it might have on her health long term. Mira has been organizing “Fridays for Future” protests for more than a year in Pittsburgh.

According to the Clean Air Council, Pittsburgh’s air quality is the eighth worst in the nation for “year-round measures on fine particle pollution.” Increased levels of pollution can cause more respiratory illnesses as well as respiratory and cardiovascular hospitalizations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I have felt hopeless because today is March 19, 2021, and we are still burning fossil fuels. We are still fracking the land — land that we stole from Indigenous people — and we are still polluting our water, our most necessary and vital resource to life,” Mira said. “In Pittsburgh we are still breathing toxic air that makes us more likely to have strokes, get heart disease, get lung disease and die from cancer.”

Mira said she feels the government isn’t doing enough to stop climate change and protect people from its effects. She referenced the Texas government’s handling of a snow storm that left many Texans without power in February, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic.

“With Texas we all just watched as our government left people to die and we also watched that entire thing with our pandemic,” Mira said. “The U.S. government watches us drown and says, ‘F— that let them drown.’ Actually a better analogy would be our government puts their hands on our heads and keeps us underwater.”

Mashia Mazumder, a junior computer science major at CMU, said the protest stressed the importance of racial disparities in climate justice and the intersectionality it requires.

“I think it was great to walk between both Pitt and CMU’s campuses and I think for me it confirmed the intersectionality of climate justice and the lack of it,” Mazumder said. “I think it really showed how much work there is to be done and I think Sunrise really clearly outlined their demands, which makes the issue more tangible.”

Low-income communities have higher rates of health conditions and are more exposed to environmental hazards, according to CNBC. A report from the Fourth National Climate Assessment found that these existing inequalities will be further exacerbated due to climate change.

Mira also talked about how climate change is a byproduct of white supremacy and racism. This is something she said she’s noticed after working in climate action for years.

“It is impossible to not see the way climate change and the causes of climate change have been a tactic of abuse to entire communities all around the world,” Mira said. “Climate change is the product of white supremacy, it is the product of colonialism, it is the product of racism and it is the product of individualism and selfishness and greed.”

Editor’s Note: Posey is an illustrator for The Pitt News.