Environmental group hosts speech, panels for first Climate Day

Aiden Blinn | Staff Reporter

Washington University Students for International Collaboration on the Environment hosted its first-ever Climate Day centered around student involvement in environmental projects Feb. 9.

The event began with a keynote speech from Elliot Diringer, executive vice president of the nonprofit Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, followed by three panels featuring nonprofit workers, government representatives and students.

During the nonprofit panel discussion, Louise Bradshaw, director of education at the St. Louis Zoo, encouraged students to take advantage of Washington University’s resources to tackle environmental issues.

“You all have really amazing networks right here,” Bradshaw said. “You have an incredible bunch of resources and powerful organizations to connect to—so, you might find someone who’s really interested in doing something in southern Illinois or about flood plains or whatever it is.”

Bradshaw also noted the importance of local action and awareness in initiating environmental action.

“It helps to be really well-informed about what’s going on in St. Louis and to be able to shine a light on the things that are really successful, that need some momentum,” Bradshaw said.

Heather Navarro, executive director of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, believes that one obstacle facing environmental justice is the lack of immediacy of climate change’s effects.

“I do think it’s hard, especially in the city of St. Louis. Different groups that I work with, they’re concerned that their children aren’t going to live past 18; so, talking to them about the fate of their grandchildren, their great-grandchildren is not terribly relevant,” Navarro said.

According to Navarro, environmental activists must relate the effects of climate change to the life of the average American to generate interest in climate change on a national level.

“I think connecting the issues around climate change to people’s everyday lives and the concerns—the very real, acute concerns—that they have is how we can take action together,” Navarro said.

Environmental activist Georgia de la Garza expressed the significance of unity in enacting change on campus and within the greater community.

“You have some issues here on campus where you have a lot of organizations that want to be fossil-free. You have social justice issues, and I say for all your organizations—religious, cultural, whatever—come together and work together on one issue, and just keep knocking those issues out one-by-one,” de la Garza said.

After the event, Anne Barton-Veenkant, organizer at the climate justice organization 350 STL, applauded the Climate Day as a useful method for exposing the University’s population to different perspectives on climate justice.

“I think for students who are already interested in the topic, it’s an opportunity for them to hear from a variety of different lenses, different paths that people have taken to arrive at the same passion,” Barton-Veenkant said. “If you’re in college, then you’re looking for your path forward, and I think it’s often helpful to hear a variety of ways that people have taken so that you can start to be inspired about what rings true to you.”

Just like the other participants in the nonprofit panel, Barton-Veenkant stressed the role of local action in generating global change.

“I think that there’s no such thing as strictly global action. You can’t just take an action that is inherently global—everyone has to be taking local action,” Barton-Veenkant said. “Trying to be politically active in different ways throughout my life, the most accessible way I think is local politics.”

With regard to Climate Day itself, Barton-Veenkant was pleased by the integration of student, government and nonprofit perspectives.

“I was very happy with the diversity of approaches that were represented on the panels,” Barton-Veenkant said. “Hearing from a variety of sources, both the information they were able to share and the tone that was set from each source was very fascinating.”