More than 1 million students joined activist Greta Thunberg in climate strikes around the world on March 15, 2019. Priya Dalal-Whelan, a senior at Perpich Center for Arts Education in Golden Valley and partnerships director of Minnesota Youth Climate Strike, joined the efforts that day and continues to organize for climate change action.
“You think of climate change as environmental issues that affect animals and wildlife,” Dalal-Whelan said. “But I think what really motivated a lot of us to get started is the realization that this is a people problem.”
Dalal-Whelan says the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change study, which reported we have only 12 years to limit climate change’s impact to moderate levels, drove her and others to action.
“We are physically at risk in the next couple of decades,” Dalal-Whelan said. “And people who don’t have as much privilege are at way more risk … (They) have fewer resources to protect themselves.”
Minnesota Youth Climate Strike has two ongoing campaigns: one for pushing those in power to divest from fossil fuels and another to rid North Minneapolis of a trash incinerator that produces more carbon dioxide than a coal plant and releases toxins into the neighborhood.
Recently, Dalal-Whelan joined other students at the Minnesota Capitol for a Minnesota State Board of Investment meeting. She learned that the board is legally responsible for doing what’s in the best interest of the fund.
“They are trying to argue that it means they can’t divest,” Dalal-Whelan said. “But if you look at the numbers, it means they should.”
Dalal-Whelan and her peers bring a realistic conversation to the table, and she plans to continue advocating after graduation. She wants to study social science and social policy in college.
“I think a lot of times people think of youth activism as an extracurricular in high school and it ends, but it doesn’t. It can be a career.”
Another person involved in climate and environmental activism is University of St. Thomas senior Michael Salzl, an environmental science major. Salzl conducts research with associate professor Dr. Gaston Small at St. Thomas’ Stewardship Garden about the effects of different fertilizers and compost on urban agricultural soils and water sources.
Growing up on a dairy farm motivated Salzl to research food production and sustainability, and it shapes how he views agriculture. He recognizes animal farming is unsustainable, but also knows what it means for a family to rely on milk checks. He hopes his research will help farmers and the community find common ground. By focusing on urban agriculture, he wants to bring fresh produce to communities that might lack access.
Salzl said getting people as close as possible to the food they eat reduces the emissions produced by food transportation.
“We are maximizing the ways that we can farm efficiency and then bring food to people that need it the most,” Salzl said. “That’s a very important thing when we’re talking about climate change, action and activism in general.”
Salzl also pushes for climate action in his current community at St. Thomas. He collaborates with the Sustainability Club to persuade the university to invest more in climate change issues, arguing that its slogan “all for the common good” should include working toward renewable energy and sustainability. He is currently working to create an individual action group that will urge the university to divest from fossil fuels and weapons investment.
“(I’m) pushing for the university to vote with their dollar and walk the walk,” he said.
Salzl acknowledges the important efforts youth like Dalal-Whelan have made when it comes to climate activism, and he would like to see adults take more responsibility and action.
“That’s what Greta is saying,” Salzl said. “She’s pretty much saying that adults need to step up and do their job and that their inaction is the reason that you have to strike. So (youth activism is) a good call and it’s a good push; but I wish it didn’t have to happen in the first place.”
Both Salzl and Dalal-Whalen believe there are many opportunities to contribute in the fight against climate change. The Minnesota Youth Climate Strike hosts many sit-ins and protests anyone can get involved with.
“Wanting to save the environment by using reusable cups or no plastic straws —I think that’s great,” Dalal-Whelan said. “But what we’ve seen with the climate strike is people realizing that our individual action isn’t going to be enough (and) that coming together against climate change makes a lot more sense.”
For more information about the Minnesota Youth Climate Strike, check out its Instagram page: @MNClimateStrike.