December 10, 2019

GUEST ROOM | The Climate March to Nowhere

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Cornellians on Friday took part in the second climate strike of the academic year. The movement is rooted in the urgent need for climate action, an environmental cause that transcends political ideologies. Yet, many marchers at the last climate strike, including myself, were not aware that the platform of the march also extends to social justice. By tying climate action to other political concerns, global climate strike organizers alienate conservatives on an issue that requires unity. Because of this, I did not march in Friday’s strike and will likely not participate in future demonstrations. I obtained a copy of the demands made by Friday’s protesters, which catalyzed my concern about the intention of the movement. These demands inappropriately represent the science of climate change or affect unrelated issues.

It’s important to acknowledge that there is an increasingly urgent need for action to combat both the causes and effects of climate change. The upheaval that will result from rapid warming of the climate is already underway and will only become more severe in the coming decades. As argued by an inspirational group of youth plaintiffs in the landmark court case Juliana v. The United States, the right to a sustainable climate is a prerequisite to all other human rights, including those guaranteed under the Constitution. With that in mind, we need to be laser-focused on keeping as many molecules of carbon in the ground as possible.

Unfortunately, the current global climate strike movement, including its organizers here at Cornell, seems to have forgotten this. The list of demands published by the organizers of Friday’s strike on Ho Plaza includes the establishment of “a mandatory orientation workshop that educates students about indigenous and colonial history of the land upon which Cornell lies” and the realization of “shared governance through the formation of forums of students, professors, indigenous peoples, staff, Ithaca residents and Ithaca workers managed by the Student Federation,” in addition to changes regarding the University’s investment behavior and infrastructure projects.

While increased understanding of indigenous history and shared governance are both laudable goals, neither of them are related in any way to keeping carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Furthermore, by tying climate action to a broader range of progressive social justice issues, organizers of the march are continuing down the dangerous road of making climate action a partisan issue.

As recently as the 1990s, there was a broad bipartisan consensus that action was needed on climate change. In 2008, Newt Gingrich and Nancy Pelosi co-starred in an ad for Al Gore’s We Can Solve It campaign, where they highlighted the fact that both Democrats and Republicans support measures to reduce our carbon footprint. More recently, there is significant evidence showing strong support for climate action among self-identified Republican voters. Imagine the progress we could make if climate action wasn’t relegated to the purgatory of partisan squabbling.

University resources are already in high demand. Rather than “mandat[ing] University media platforms share Cornell’s global CO2 parts per million on a monthly basis,” resources can be focused on communicating sustainable practices from the Campus Sustainability Office. We already know that the campus contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, and that this will likely continue until 2035, the deadline for Cornell’s carbon neutrality pledge.

Despite the inclusions of social justice reform in their platform, the organizers of the global climate strike do realize the urgent need for climate action. I commend them for this. To make a more meaningful impact across political ideologies in the United States and around the world, organizers should surrender social justice reform in favor of a feasible and unifying climate platform, rooted entirely in scientific fact. Anything else further reinforces the notion peddled by denier media figures and politicians that climate action is just a trojan horse for a broader range of progressive policies. This is the path to a carbon neutral world.

Aidan Mahoney is a sophomore in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Comments may be sent to