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Photo by Alex McKenzie

UMBC students advocate for climate change through international Climate Strike

Friday mornings at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County are often quiet. But on Sept. 20, the day of an international climate strike inspired by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, the campus rang with the sounds of protestors’ chants: “Fuck Monsanto!” and “Fuck global warming!” 

About 40 protesters met at the Albin O. Kuhn library at 11 a.m. for a short march to Lecture Hall 1, where an open mic was planned to take place. However, the space was full due to a class, so protestors instead stood on The Commons Terrace, taking turns speaking into a megaphone about climate change. 

One of the strike’s main organizers, senior animation major Kjell Hansen, read a letter directed towards President Hrabowski, asking him to “support student’s climate initiatives on campus.” The full text of the letter, as well as a letter to Speaker Adrienne Jones, can be found on page 3. Both letters were written by Hansen with input from the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, where they intern.

Hansen was encouraged to organize the event at the suggestion of a supervisor at that internship. From there, they reached out to the newly-formed UMBC chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America, who helped to spread the word through social media and physical posters around campus. 

Other protestors spoke out about ways climate change has affected them personally; one discussed how Hurricane Michael had devastated their hometown of Panama City, Florida, while another talked about how Old Town Ellicott City had suffered two “once-every-hundred-years” floods in less than two years. Several speakers also talked about how climate change hits marginalized populations with particular force, including Yaw Owusu-Boaitey, a junior biology major.

“I think it was important to bring [the climate strike] to UMBC because we have a campus that truly values diversity and inclusion,” Owusu-Boaitey said. “So I think UMBC has a huge responsibility in not just being part of this fight to stop climate change … but UMBC has to lead in that fight as well.” He explained that UMBC could begin this process by moving up the projected year by which all UMBC buildings will be powered entirely by renewable energy, which is currently set for 2075.

Ryan Kmetz, the Assistant Director of Sustainability since August 2019, says that he and the campus’s Climate Change Task Force are working to move that date forward. “We’re reevaluating those numbers and will probably be adjusting them down,” Kmetz said. The Task Force’s executive board will meet for the first time this week. 

Though initiatives are already in progress, Hansen hopes that the march made a further impact on the campus community. “Given the short turn around, I think it went really well,” they said. “I’m really happy with the people who spoke … I hope that we can keep the ball rolling with the environmentalist movements on campus because it’s very important that we don’t stop here.”

Not everyone was as enthusiastic as Hansen about Friday’s climate strike, however. One student said that the rally’s chanting had disturbed his physics class, which was being held in Lecture Hall 1. “That’s not to say that I disagree with the message, but I disagree with the execution,” he said. 

When Hansen was asked for their response to any students who were bothered by the protest, they simply said, “They’re gonna be a lot more bothered by climate change. That’s a guarantee.”

Photo: Kjell Hansen, one of the main organizers of the climate strike at UMBC, speaks outside of the Albin O. Kuhn Library. Photo by Alex McKenzie. In print, this photo was misattributed.