On the evening of Sept. 19, around 20 students gathered in the basement of Murray-Dodge Hall to prepare for the Princeton Climate Strike on Sept. 20, turning used cardboard boxes into sustainable protest signs.
The Princeton Climate Strike is one of many Climate Strikes, occurring globally over the next week, intended to “disrupt business as usual” ahead of a United Nations Climate Action Summit on Monday, Sept. 23.
According to Fridays for Future, a climate action organization spearheaded by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, over 4,100 “Climate Strikes” are scheduled to occur over the next week. “Millions [of people will] walk out of their workplaces and homes to join young climate strikers on the streets and demand an end to the age of fossil fuels,” the Global Climate Strike website writes.
Organizers for Princeton’s Climate Strike, including both members of the University community and a number of town residents, will use their event to support Thunberg’s international push for energy reform, as well as to advocate for sustainability locally.
Naomi Cohen-Shields ’20, one of the event organizers, said the protest will allow students to contemplate actions the University and town could take to improve their sustainability, as well as larger-scale possibilities to reduce fossil-fuel consumption.
The event will begin at 12:30 p.m. on Sept. 20 in Hinds Plaza, with speeches from various members of the community, including two Princeton High School students and several University undergraduate and graduate students. In addition, Rob Nixon, the Currie C. and Thomas A. Barron Family Professor in the Humanities and the Environment, and Anne Clintock, Professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies and a member of the Climate Futures Initiative Steering Committee, will speak at the event. After this set program, the “Climate Strikers” will march through the town of Princeton, cross into campus adjacent to Firestone Library, and finish with closing statements on the North Lawn of Frist Campus Center.
Cohen-Shields began organizing the Princeton Climate Strike in early August. The main organizing team, she said, is “really just a collection of individuals,” including members of the University community and members of the wider town community. The Climate Strike has also received support from organizations such as the Princeton Environmental Activism Coalition and the Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice, as well as local businesses, including Labyrinth Books, which hosted the first of two “poster-making parties” on Sunday. The second “poster party” took place in the basement of Murray-Dodge.
“Globally, I think we are seeing a big shift in that there is a lot more climate change activism happening now,” Cohen-Shields said. “It hasn’t in the past because it's felt very remote to people, but as people feel the impacts they’re more likely to go out and stand up.”
The organizers have also received support from a number of faculty members, including the professors set to speak at the Climate Strike. Additionally, approximately 80 faculty members from various departments and disciplines signed onto a letter stating that they “recognize that climate change poses a grave threat to the wellbeing of all inhabitants of the earth” and that we “as a nation as a state, as a University, and as individuals” are “responsible to take immediate and robust action.”
Sarah Brown ’22, another event organizer, said that she reached out to her academic advisor, Program in Science and Global Security Research Scientist and Co-Director Zia Mian, for assistance in engaging University faculty on the issue of climate change. Mian, Brown said, recommended organizers draft a paragraph about climate-change-related support and circulate it among members of the University faculty. In addition to sharing the paragraph electronically, various students involved in the Climate Strike approached their professors to discuss the matter.
“We had an incredible, incredible response from all departments, which was the most shocking for me,” Brown said. “And we continue to have faculty asking how they can help, how they can get engaged.”
Brown said she saw the impacts of climate change firsthand while doing geoscience fieldwork in Bolivia last summer; since then, she has viewed climate change as a “social justice issue,” as the burdens of climate change will be felt disproportionately by disadvantaged communities, a sentiment also expressed in the faculty letter.
“I think, when faced with a problem as large-scale as climate change, we’re really going to need transformative [action],” Brown added. “As we kind of change the narrative that is told around climate change and around the future, we’re building a movement of people who come together, can have hope together, and can rethink what is possible.”
Cohen-Shields said that while activism is “generally very quiet on Princeton’s campus,” she thinks that “there’s definitely the potential for [the turnout] to be big.”
“The numbers look good,” she added. “It’s really hard to be sure, but we’ve got a couple different platforms where people can RSVP, and the RSVPs suggest four-to-five hundred people.” Realistically, Cohen-Shields said, she expects about half of those people, somewhere between 200 and 250, to show up.
One added bonus to a localized protest movement, unlike other single-location, large protests, Brown noted, is that the protest is in itself environmentally sustainable.
“We’re having people get together in a place that’s easy to get to without actually burning a lot of fossil fuels to get there,” she noted.
Additionally, Brown said, the localized nature of the Princeton Climate Strike will allow for ongoing conversation.
“We’re thinking about local action and coming together with the people you’re actually around to build action about climate change,” she said. “It's not just this one day kind of thing. It’s your community working toward something.”
Though the specific time and place has not been confirmed, Cohen-Shields said that the organizers plan on holding an open discussion on climate change on Saturday, following the Strike, during which community members may discuss possibilities for future action.
A number of organizers in other communities have planned climate strikes for both Sept. 20 and Sept. 27, the two dates promoted on the Global Climate Strike website. Though nothing is currently planned for Sept. 27 in Princeton, Cohen-Shields said that a second event is not out of the question, noting, “maybe something will come out of the Saturday discussion.”
Though event organizers stressed that climate issues are not a “one day kind of thing” and that the Strikes represent just one moment in a broader movement toward climate-change reform, Brown stressed the importance of showing up at this specific event.
“The whole world is coming together, and this is kind of a moment to unify and show that you care,” she said.