About 150 students and community members gathered on the John T. Myers Pedestrian Bridge to unify Greater Lafayette and call for local government to declare a climate emergency on Friday.
The event was hosted by the Tippecanoe Climate Alliance, which represents Purdue Climate Strike, Lafayette Climate, the Go Greener Commission and students from groups at Harrison High School and West Lafayette Jr./Sr. High School.
Annabel Prokopy, a sophomore at West Lafayette Jr./Sr. High School, said the central location of the bridge was strategic but also served a symbolic purpose.
“We wanted it to show our unification and that we support each other,” she said.
The event was part of a slew of global climate strikes that took place across the globe on Friday. Participants listened to speeches from a variety of community members and representatives, including West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis, State Rep. Chris Campbell and councilor-elect Kathy Parker.
“We talked about (our goal for the event) for a while,” said Polly Barks, an organizer for Lafayette Climate and zero-waste educator. “We kind of boiled it down — for this event that fit in with all of our separate goals — to call on Lafayette, West Lafayette, Tippecanoe County and Purdue to declare a climate emergency, which is essentially our local representative saying, ‘Yes, the climate crisis is real, and the problem that we need to deal with.’”
Climate change will be a point of discussion at the council meeting in Lafayette on Monday, where strikers are planning to pack the council chambers to show support for action on climate change.
West Lafayette passed a climate resolution in October, committing the city to reducing municipal carbon emissions by 20% every four years, though Prokopy said the strikers want to see more efforts from the city than just a non-binding resolution.
“We definitely want to keep pushing our city,” she said. “I’m trying to get them for it, so that we have the climate emergency, because it really shows they’re ready to work.”
A variety of activities was available at the event, including making banners, creating climate-strike signs out of cardboard and making bird feeders from recycled plastic. There was also a wheel participants could spin to win origami figures of different endangered species.
The event also served as a way for people to opt out of the standard consumerism of Black Friday, Barks said. Instead of shopping, community members could get together, enjoy art and show support for climate action.
“(The event) is just a chance to get outside, meet people, build community and create art rather than buying things you don’t need. I think it’s just a perfect tie-in to what we’re all about,” Barks said.
Alice Pawley, a professor in the College of Engineering, said consumerism and the economy are connected with nature, sharing a quote from Gaylord Nelson, who helped establish Earth Day back in 1972.
“He said, ‘The economy is a fully owned subsidiary of the environment,’ and I think that is a very apt description,” Pawley said.
She also said the event highlighted an important area of future improvement.
“We had a really good turnout of different elected officials, but they’re not scientists. They’re not engineers,” Pawley said.
She said there needs to be improved communication with local officials about what is needed to prevent the effects of climate change — specifically, slashing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% in the next years and becoming 100% carbon neutral by 2050.
“It’s about reducing use of fossil fuels and increasing the use of renewables and electrifying everything,” Pawley said. “That’s a clear message we can give to elected officials. That is something they can work towards.”
Beyond demanding that local governments declare a climate emergency and giving people a way to opt out of Black Friday, Pawley said strikes like this also serve to embolden community members.
“Marches don’t convince naysayers that they are wrong. They’re not supposed to,” Pawley said. “They are supposed to show people who are protesting and people who feel similarly that they’re not alone.”
Barks said she felt strikes serve to help bring people who don’t consider themselves environmentalists but still care about the environment into the movement.
Though some may think Indiana is not an environmentally conscious state, Barks disagrees.
“There’s so many amazing organizations around here doing great things,” Barks said. “But it really comes down to community engagement. To a person who doesn’t think they are an environmentalist, how do we get them to understand that they are (one) because they want clean air, they want fresh water.”