While the Willamette community has been experiencing many changes due to COVID-19, including a transition to distance learning and the cancellation of numerous events, the Climate Action Alliance is still dedicated to advocating for green policies and planning.
“This shouldn’t mean that we should just stop fighting and stop caring about action on climate change,” said club president Daniel Smith (‘22) about the ongoing pandemic.
The Climate Action Alliance is a new club, which was approved by Associated Students of Willamette University (ASWU) at the end of 2019, and began actively meeting this semester. In fall 2019, Smith and his friends attended a protest at the Capitol in support of the Clean Energy Jobs bill, which “is a proposed law to put a limit on climate pollution from the largest polluters in Oregon, and charge them a price for what they put in our air,” the Renew Oregon website writes. Seeing the other Willamette students that mobilized for the event made them start thinking about creating a club to organize further climate crisis activism: “We just kind of started thinking about how it would be really cool and beneficial to campus to have a place to go to organize that kind of thing,” said Smith.
The club is organized into three subcommittees that focus on different locations: campus, city and state.
For the campus and city groups, they focus on advocating for the creation of a climate action plan, as neither Salem nor Willamette has one.
“One example of something that might be in that climate action plan is steps to shift residence halls from a heating system that relies on natural gas to just electricity. As time goes on, Oregon and Salem’s power grid is more renewable, so just shifting to an electrified heating system means that the University’s carbon footprint will be reduced,” explained Smith. “We’re of the opinion that without a climate action plan, that’s not going to happen. Because with the financial issues that the University is facing, there needs to be a long term plan to be able to do that at all. It has to be a consideration in budgeting going forward. We don’t expect it to happen now, but we expect it to be a consideration as we move forward.”
The Willamette committee also focuses on educating students about their environmental impact and carbon footprint.
As for the state level, Smith reported that the club engages with Oregon state legislatures to show their support of policies like the Green New Deal.
As for club plans for the rest of the semester, Smith said, “We’ve been talking about how we will go forward with everything changing so quickly and all the unknowns that exist, but I think we will probably be trying to engage with legislatures on the federal level to tell them that we are in support of pushing for a Green New Deal.”
The club will be holding meetings over Zoom in order to continue communicating and actively work toward their goals.
The Climate Action Alliance was planning on collaborating with Students for Sustainability to facilitate Climate Action Week during the week of April 20, where many events surrounding climate change awareness and education would be offered. The club also planned on supporting efforts by Sunrise Willamette to coordinate a strike on Earth Day, an event that is a part of a larger strike spurred by the national Sunrise Movement.
The Sunrise Movement’s website states the goals of the strike as, “the decade of the Green New Deal is here and the people in power can either stand with us or step aside for the leadership who will.”
It is currently uncertain as to how COVID-19 will impact the plans for the strike.
Smith concluded with his thoughts about how COVID-19 corresponds to the climate crisis and continued activism is crucial: “It’s a great case study in how poorly prepared we are as a country, as a society, as a world for issues that are hard to address and issues that build over time, which is exactly what the climate crisis is. I, of course, think that the climate crisis is going to be exponentially more devastating than the coronavirus. It will affect more people in more ways. The coronavirus is a singular problem, whereas the climate crisis is a bunch of different issues in different places at the same time that continue. It’s just bigger in every way, and we can’t even deal with the coronavirus.”
To get involved with the Climate Action Alliance, email Smith at <desmith> and follow the group’s Instagram at @climateactionalliancewu.
Art: Exene Vandenberg