The Rally to End Fossil Fuels took place on the Student Union Lawn yesterday from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m., as the University of Connecticut community gathered to push the release of a sustainability action plan that was promised by administrators six months ago.
Students and faculty went to fight for the plan which would allow UConn to be carbon neutral by 2030 and carbon zero by 2040.
Monet Paredes, student organizer of the Fossil Fuel Free rally at Storrs, acknowledged that there is a lot of time that goes into a plan like this. She said she is frustrated about how there has been no transparency on the process or how it will be done.
“It feels like it’s a lot for show and we are being increasingly frustrated by that. It is not enough to say that [UConn] is a ‘green’ university or say you are going to start doing these things, you actually have to start doing them,” Paredes said.
When asked if she thinks it is a realistic goal to say that UConn will be zero carbon by 2040, she said it is possible but the university has to start thinking about solutions today.
“We have to start today because it is our future that we have to worry about,” Paredes said.
Paredes began the rally by giving an opening speech, followed by eight speakers that spoke of the detrimental impacts of climate change and how action is needed to save the future.
“It is terrifying to think that the world our children will grow up in will be further impacted by the catastrophic symptoms of our society’s negligence,” Sean Dunn, director of external affairs for the Undergraduate Student Government, said.
Dunn spoke about the issue of climate change and said how it is not a political issue, rather it is a global issue.
“I do see that over a million species currently face extinction. That greenhouse gases are at an all time high. That incidences of severe weather have been pronounced even here in Connecticut and that in 20 years global temperatures are expected to rise 1.5 centigrade above pre industrial levels, pushing us past the tipping point that leading scientists have warned us about for decades,” Dunn said.
Colin Rosadino, a student at UConn Law, began his speech talking about natural disasters; including the wildfires and flooding that occurred this past summer in Connecticut.
“[This summer] smoke filled our air from wildfires that burned thousands of miles away. I don’t know about you guys, but I have lived in Connecticut for 23 years and I have never seen that before,” Rosadino said.
While the speakers described the realities of the climate crisis, they emphasized that as an educational institution, UConn has an obligation to do their part to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
“In order to fulfill our vision for a viable future, we must work with the board of trustees and the administration to ensure that UConn is a leading institution in the green energy transition and the fight against global warming,” Dunn said.
At the Oct. 25 board of trustees meeting, members of Fossil Fuel Free UConn marched to demand climate action. The board of trustees unanimously passed a statement of support of the sustainability action in response.
“The University’s dual focus is both inward facing and outward looking; internally the Carbon Reduction Working Group, previous related efforts, and administrative units within the institution are working together to ensure UConn achieves carbon neutrality on its campuses by 2030, with the ultimate goal of being zero carbon by 2040,” according to the board of trustees statement.
While Fossil Fuel Free UConn acknowledged that the support from the board of trustees is important, they still stress the necessity of a concrete action plan.
One of the purposes of the rally was in response to the sustainability town hall that was held by administrators on Nov. 2.
Dylan Steer, president of EcoHusky and a political science and environmental studies major, noted how at the town hall, students submitted their questions for UConn President Radenka Maric, but were not given the opportunity to ask them.
Steer spoke out of frustration with the university for not upholding their promises to create the sustainability action plan that they promised last year.
“This was a lie. Upon returning to campus, there was still no update on the plan. Faculty, university staff and students all had no idea what the status of the sustainability action plan was,” Steer said. “We must hold the president accountable…We call for our sustainability action plan now.”
Another speaker, Anji Seth, a geography professor and climate scientist, advised students to take classes in sociology, political science and geography, to learn how to fight for a better future.
“Educate yourself while you are here. Keep pressing the administration because it is going to be a battle, ask the hard questions and give careful thought to what kind of communities you want to live in the future,” Seth said.
While the Fossil Fuel Free UConn coalition led the rally, there were other organizations that helped organize the rally including Eco Husky, USG, UConn Environmental Justice Front and Ecoposium.
“I question the hypocrisy of our administration that fails to properly respond to the calls of members of our community who have and continue to fight tirelessly at the forefront of environmental activism,” Claire Lee, president and co-founder of Ecoposium, said.
In addition to the Storrs rally, the Avery Point regional campus also hosted a rally yesterday. Kamala Chuss, representing the Avery Point student body, spoke about the importance of sustainability at Avery Point, located on the Connecticut waterfront, and how the increase of flooding and erosion has increased wear on the sea wall that protects campus.
“Climate change threatens all UConn infrastructure, all members of UConn
, and the fate of our planet. The Avery Point student body will not stand by and allow UConn to neglect climate change the way they have neglected the sea wall. For that reason, we stand alongside Fossil Fuel Free UConn and demand a sustainability action plan from the university administration to reach zero carbon by 2040,” Chuss said in an email statement.
“What we do in the next few years will determine the future for thousands of years,” Seth said.