Strength in action in UC Berkeley’s environmental activism community

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In the midst of record high heat waves, hurricane after hurricane and some of the most destructive wildfires the world has ever seen, young people are passionate that their voices be heard and bring a sense of urgency to the seemingly endless climate change debate.

On Sept. 20, students worldwide walked out of their classrooms to take part in the global climate strike and call upon their leaders to take action. Signs reading “Our house is on fire” and “If you don’t act like adults, we will!” punched the air at the UC Berkeley local climate strike where over 1,000 people showed up to be a part of the community of young people fighting for their futures.

Dante Gonzales, an organizer of the UC Berkeley local climate strike and senior at UC Berkeley, asked all those who attended to sign in to the strike online. The plan is to create a newsletter that will be sent out to everyone who signed in, keeping them up to date on actions that UC Berkeley students are taking and possible ways to get involved.

“This strike was just a starting point, a jumping-off point. We want to harness this energy and start to channel it to our other ongoing projects,” Gonzales said. 

Gonzales stressed that while the UC Berkeley local climate strike was a huge success, it in no way shows the entirety of the work being done by young people at UC Berkeley who are taking action against climate change. There are resources available and many clubs that offer campus students entry into environmental activism.

There are resources available and many clubs that offer campus students entry into environmental activism.

The intricate climate action community at UC Berkeley is composed of various student clubs and organizations that share the sensibility that there is always more work to be done.

Gonzales, along with his role as the organizer of the climate strike, also serves as the carbon neutrality initiative engagement fellow for the Student Environmental Resource Center, or SERC, the hub for much of the environmental work and activism being done at UC Berkeley. Part of his role at SERC includes leading the Carbon Crew program, which focuses on taking action on issues of food justice, community engagement and environmental education. 

This year, the Carbon Crew received over 60 applicants. Many of the programs held through SERC have received record-breaking numbers of applicants. UC Berkeley students are ready to get involved and fight for their planet. And they see SERC as the nerve center for most climate action.

But, clubs that operate outside of SERC have still been able to experience immense success in environmental activism within the past year.

Fossil Free Cal experienced a huge victory in their six-year struggle to push the UC system to divest from its 200 holdings in fossil fuel companies. On Sept. 17, Jagdeep Singh Bachher, the UC chief investment officer, and Richard Sherman, chair of the UC Board of Regents Investments Committee, published an op-ed in the LA Times, revealing the UC system’s commitment to divestment. 

This decision came after years of Fossil Free Cal’s petitions, letter-writing campaigns and speeches given at public comment during UC regents meetings. In the past year, many faculty members stood in solidarity with the fossil free movement, adding pressure on the UC regents to divest from fossil fuels.

Sarah Bancroft, core team member of Fossil Free Cal, chief of staff for the office of ASUC Senator Sylvia Targ and junior at UC Berkeley, relayed the excitement of the fossil free community following the decision Sept. 17, despite Sherman and Bachher’s assertion that they were not influenced by any “political pressure.”

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Fossil Free Cal’s established goal of pressuring the UC system to divest from fossil fuel has been achieved, but Bancroft said the club is not done just yet.

“We are a community of people who really love working with each other and are passionate about sustainability projects, so we will find a way of continuing to work together,” Bancroft said.

As of their Sept. 24 meeting, Fossil Free Cal has decided to continue operating, in a somewhat lower capacity, creating a campaign for the divestment of the UC Berkeley Foundation’s endowment from fossil fuels, according to a follow-up email from Bancroft.

The environmental activism community is being led by young people who are passionate about the environment and are ready to fight for change, like the members of SERC and Fossil Free Cal.

Young people are not only impassioned, but they are angry. They are angry that the possibility of their future is being endangered by elected officials, many of whom will not live to see the results of their policies. They are angry, because they have to leave school in order to make sure that that their voices are being heard. They are angry, because the voices of so many Native American environmental movements have been and continue to be ignored. They are angry, because the voices of the people most vulnerable to climate change have been repeatedly silenced.

They are angry that the possibility of their future is being endangered by elected officials, many of whom will not live to see the results of their policies.

Despite all that anger, there is a clear sense of love and intention within the UC Berkeley environmental activism community. The anger stems from the fact that young people care about those around them. They care about giving voices to those who have been silenced and giving them a platform to create change.

“(The strike had) folks in the community all coming together and rallying for support of this critical environmental work that has been and will continue to happen,” said Sylvia Targ, an ASUC senator who ran on the platform of representing the UC Berkeley environmental community within the ASUC Senate.

Each organizer sends a message to the UC Berkeley community: There is still so much work to be done, but we are not alone.

For those interested in getting involved in the environmental community at UC Berkeley, there are many options to do so. Targ’s office has closed applications to many of their environmental programs, but Targ encourages those who express true interest in a specific field of action to contact her office. Additionally, SERC is a great resource for people to contact about emerging opportunities in climate action.

Contact Grace Vogel at [email protected].