AU students strike for climate change and demand sustainability changes on campus

About 150 Augustana students and members of the Sioux Falls community took part in a climate strike hosted by Augie Green on Friday, Sept. 20.

The climate strike was held on the Campus Green and was registered online with the Global Climate Strike, a worldwide event put on by a conglomerate of youth and organizations fighting against climate change. The movement was started by Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist who started protesting outside her country’s parliament each Friday beginning in August 2018.

There were over 2,500 strikes planned worldwide, with 900 strikes in the United States alone.

Augustana University was the only college in South Dakota registered for the Global Climate Strike according to Sara Telehun Birhe, president of Augie Green.

In the midst of a humid September morning, many students and community members held signs, including, “School Strike for Climate,” “No Planet B,” and “Future Climate Refugee.” However, the strike itself was rather quiet and reflective.

The Augustana strike also hosted local businesses and organizations focused on sustainability, including Terra Shepherd Boutique & Apothecary, Co-op Natural Foods, Dakota Rural Action, and the Sioux Falls Outdoor Campus. Professor Danny Gerling also had information on human waste and sustainability, which is the topic of his FYS course.

“We wanted to provide opportunities for people to educate themselves on what [sustainability] looks like,” Telehun Birhe said. “We needed to get outside storefronts and information available to people at our climate strike.”

There were also several student speakers who spoke on issues related to climate and what the community can do to make a difference. One of the student speakers was Mia Werger, a sophomore biology at Augustana and a key organizer of Augie Green’s climate strike. 

“It’s our future at stake,” Werger said. “We’re watching adults who aren’t going to have to deal with these problems not take this as seriously as we believe they need to take it. [But] we do have young adults and school children saying that they’re aware that this is a big issue. And I hope that makes a difference.” 

Augustana senior Najma Siyad was another organizer and student speaker at the strike.

“The vision for this strike is for students to acknowledge that we’re not just making a ruckus, but we are bringing awareness, not to climate change — but a climate crisis,” Siyad said. “We want students to be ‘woke’ and knowledgeable about what is happening to the planet — where they call home — and to take action.”

There were also a few non-Augustana students who skipped classes to attend the strike, including Lincoln High School seniors Izzy Carlson and Alexandra Hoekstra.

“I know that school is important, but why would we spend all of our time on a future that isn’t even a solid plan right now?” Carlson said. “Now is definitely the time to act.”

There were also four South Dakota State University students in attendance. One SDSU senior, Bryanna Chipley, said that she came to the Augustana climate strike because she believes that the youth are the strongest voice to push for future change.

“The speeches were great,” Chipley said. “It was actually a lot more optimistic than we expected.” 

Madeline St. Claire, another SDSU senior, explained that she came to the strike because she is really passionate about the environment.

“I loved it,” St. Claire said. “The vegan cupcakes were great. I want a recipe for the cream cheese!”

The climate strike concluded with Telehun Birhe encouraging Augustana students to sign Augie Green’s climate petition. 

“To strike in itself is meaningless if there is not action afterward,” Telehun Birhe said. “It’s about being optimistic that students will sign our online petition, and that we get enough signatures so that the administration sees.”

Augie Green’s petition consists of four demands of the Augustana administration – eliminating the styrofoam products on campus, making sustainable changes to the Ordal Dining Hall, replacing shower heads in dorms with water-conserving models, and adding more recycling bins to campus. 

Augustana students will be able to voice their support by signing the petition online, which will be emailed to students and be available to sign in the Ordal Dining Hall throughout next week.

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