More than 150 West Virginia college students and residents skipped class and work on Friday to raise awareness about the growing threat of climate change. The protest was part of a global climate action that drew millions of participants across the world.
It’s the first time West Virginia students participated in the Friday climate strikes, also known as Fridays for Future.
The movement began last fall after then-15-year-old Swedish climate advocate Greta Thunberg began skipping class to draw attention to the climate crisis and a lack of political action to address climate change.
Since then, millions of students across the world have taken to the streets in protest. The Global Climate Strike Friday comes ahead of the Climate Action Summit hosted by the United Nations Monday in New York City.
In recent months, new groups dedicated to addressing climate change in West Virginia have taken root, including the grassroot groups, West Virginia Climate Action, and the West Virginia Center on Climate Change.
“Today we are trying to join the conversation about climate,” said Kathryn Williamson, a member of West Virginia Climate Action and head of the West Virginia University Planetarium. “Because if we don't talk about it, why would we care? And if we don't care, why would we act?”
WVU senior physics major Erica Chwalik carried a sign that read “Keep Earth Cool, Stop Climate Change.” She said lawmakers shouldn’t interpret the previous lack of climate protests in West Virginia as indifference by its residents. And she added it was important for her to attend Friday’s Global Climate Strike event in Morgantown to encourage others to get involved in climate advocacy.
“Climate change isn't a future issue. It's an issue now,” she said. “And I think it's really important that we say something about it.”
At Marshall University, about 80-100 people participated in a climate protest event Friday afternoon, according to Amy Parsons-White, sustainability manager at the university. She said students took turns sharing their concerns about climate change.
“We’re having a group discussion out in the field about what we can do to stop this moving train,” she said.
If action isn’t taken to curb the use of fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, scientists expect temperatures to continue to rise, extreme weather to worsen, including droughts and floods. Rising seas will displace millions of people. In Appalachia, research shows the region will largely become warmer and experience more intense rainfall, which could stress infrastructure and leave the region vulnerable to flooding like was seen in 2016.
WVU research assistant Michael Mingyar said he hopes the protest sends a message to West Virginia politicians that ignoring climate change isn’t an option anymore. One booth at the event encouraged residents to call their representatives in Washington, D.C. and encourage them to take action on climate.
“By getting all these people out here together like this, it's showing clearly that there is a vocal majority of people that are willing to do something about it,” he said. “We just need the support from those who have the power."
The City of Morgantown passed a resolution proclaiming Sept. 20-27, 2019 the “Week of West Virginia Climate Action.” Some students at University High School in Huntington have already participated in climate change-related learning, including watching Thunberg’s TED talk. Climate themed activities are scheduled at Huntington High School and Morgantown High School.
On Saturday, the West Virginia Center on Climate Change, a nonprofit offshoot of regional conservation group, Friends of Blackwater, will host a climate change and public health conference at the WVU law school.
Del. Evan Hansen (D-Monongalia) and House Speaker Roger Hanshaw (R-Clay) will be conducting a video conference for middle and high school students on climate change from 10:30 -11:15 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 24.
Protestors are also scheduled to rally in Charleston Thursday