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Climate Change Action Heats Up

By Sherri Kimmel


Activism was in the air this spring as Swarthmoreans and students from colleges across the nation silently processed up Magill Walk during the weekend PowerUp! conference. Photo by Laurence Kesterson

Swarthmore students displayed the full force of their passion to counter climate change and limit fossil-fuel extraction by participating in demonstrations this spring semester—on and off campus.

On Feb. 17, about 60 students boarded buses, paid for by the President’s Office, to attend a rally in Washington, D.C., against construction of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that will transport crude oil from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, to refineries in the United States. Billed as the largest climate rally in U.S. history, the gathering reportedly drew more than 35,000 people from 30-plus states.

The following weekend, Swarthmore’s student environmental group Mountain Justice hosted Power Up!, a weekend conference attended by about 170 college students from the West to East coasts.

Mountain Justice teamed up with students from Harvard, Brown, Earlham, Middlebury, and Bryn Mawr to plan the conference whose purpose was “to create a space where kids from all over the country could meet and build a national network,” said Sachie Hopkins-Hayakawa ’13, one of Swarthmore’s organizers. “That really did happen. People were able to connect with each other and share ideas on moving forward—examining the role of students and the younger generation in taking on challenges like climate change and fossil-fuel extraction.

On Friday, a rally and march from the Sharples Dining Hall patio, up Magill Walk and through Parrish Hall to Kohlberg Hall, drew about 50 placard-carrying participants. Activists from Canada, West Virginia, Texas, and eastern and western Pennsylvania served as panelists and keynote speakers on Saturday, revealing their experiences with fossil-fuel-extraction–generated environmental degradation in their home areas. Student-led workshops explored divestment and climate-change activism.


Swarthmore students turned out in Washington, D.C., to oppose the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Photo by Josh Peck ’13

On Sunday, students gathered in the Scott Outdoor Amphitheater and were given cardboard fists, which represented the fight for justice, according to Hopkins-Hayakawa. “We put this beautiful protest art inside Parrish, and everyone gathered and shared why they were doing this [environmental justice] work and why they were committed to moving forward. It was very powerful—a good note to send people off on. You could feel the collective energy.”

Hopkins-Hayakawa summed up the weekend. “All the feedback we’ve received has been incredibly positive. It’s so affirming and gratifying to meet people in person who are doing the same work we’re doing. I’m really glad Swarthmore could contribute so much to making this happen.”

The Board of Managers, which has been in conversation with Mountain Justice members since last May on the topic of divesting from investments related to fossil-fuel companies, plans to further examine the College’s exploration of climate change at its May 3–4 meeting. Plans are in the works for a symposium that will include outside speakers and meetings that bring together students, faculty, and staff members.

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