OSWEGO — A group of demonstrators comprised of hundreds of SUNY Oswego students, faculty members and local activists joined a chain of “Global Climate Strike” protests across the world Friday, to the chants of “the oceans are rising and so are we” and “no more corporate greed. Renewable energy is what we need.”
The protest at SUNY Oswego was part of a large series of demonstrations around the globe in anticipation of Monday’s United Nations Climate Action Summit. Countries such as Australia stood together in protest and recorded “more than 300,000 demonstrators,” which according to the Associated Press is the largest turnout for a strike since the anti-Iraq War protests in 2003.
The Oswego protestors started at noon, organizing in front of the university’s Sheldon Hall, displaying signs on recyclable cardboard and reciting self-authored poems with a dedication to Mother Nature.
“This is the positivity we should be seeing,” said SUNY Oswego student Nichole Reynoso, as she prepared to march to the Marano Campus Center for a rally that featured speakers and live music. “People came in to this with hopes that policy changes can happen, that our leaders can take more serious action on climate change.”
Former Student Association President Omar Van Reenen was one of the activists leading the charge and energized the crowd with galvanizing chants and a recounting of his upbringing in Namibia.
“We need radical structural change,” an effusive Van Reenen told the droves of demonstrators. “Vote and strike, but vote like your future depends on it. Vote like this degree means nothing without clean air and water. Climate justice is our right and the Green New Deal is our fight.”
SUNY Oswego President Deborah Stanley addressed the crowd and commended students like Van Reenen who have pushed for environmentally-conscious policies in recent years.
“You have many comrades in this fight and many generations that feel as you. But you have the compelling mandate — you must use your vote and minds,” Stanley said. “You must be active in this endeavor and never let it fall.”
The protests were partly inspired by the activism of Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, who has staged weekly demonstrations under the heading “Fridays for Future” over the past year, calling on world leaders to step up their efforts against climate change. Thunberg, who spoke in front of Congress this week and urged leaders to take climate change seriously, is expected to speak at the U.N. Climate Action Summit on Monday.
State and local officials also joined the demonstrators in addressing climate change as a matter of concern.
“ Our young people understand climate change is no longer up for debate — it is a reality based in science — and, like the state of New York, they are taking matters into their own hands to fight it,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a release. “I commend the thousands of students who are participating in the Global Climate Strike today and demanding solutions to this crisis before it gets worse.”
Cuomo, a Democrat, also called on federal leaders to “ finally step up and listen to the youth of the world” and warned of the potential disasters further “inaction” could bring, citing heavy snowfall in Buffalo and superstorms in the New York City metro area as consequences.
Local activists also chimed in on the discussion.
Locally, Port City Mayor Billy Barlow told The Palladium-Times society has an “obligation to protect the planet” and be conscious of how our actions affect the environment. Barlow noted the city has been working to put forth environmentally-friendly proposals.
“In the last three years, much of our wastewater improvements and our sewer separation project is to directly benefit the environment by drastically reducing the amount of raw sewage discharges into bodies of freshwater,” the mayor said. “We’ve eliminated the sand mixture used to treat our roads that collects in our storm water system running into our fresh water and we passed legislation involving the state’s Energy Research and Development Agency (NYSERDA) where loans and programs are available and made easier for businesses and property owners trying to convert to green energy methods, like solar power.
Barlow also added the city plans to propose ecologically-minded proposals to reduce littering in the future.
Jonathan Ashline, a member of the Oswego Tree Stewards who was at the campus event Friday, said recognizing the problem is the first step, noting “the national conversation is obstruction and denial.”
“After that we devote resources to it,” he said. “We study the most affected areas and we have a lot of those areas locally.”
Resources such as the waterfront and forest-like areas are aspects of the city Ashline said he would like to be prioritized, adding the city should double the number of trees planted each year.
“We have the room for it and we know it increases property values,” he said.