More than 4 million people globally walked out of their classrooms, jobs and homes Sept. 20. Not for better wages or less homework, but for something far more important — a need to save the planet.
Led by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, people crowded streets and parks to strike back against climate change, including a large rally in Manhattan — and a little closer to home at the College of Mount Saint Vincent.
It was there scholars from the Millennium Fellowship spearheaded efforts for an on-campus strike, gathering on the quad in view of the Hudson River and the cliffs of the Palisades for speeches and performances in support of the movement. They wanted to encourage students to take an active role in their community to reduce waste and act more environmentally sustainable.
The Millennium Fellowship program trains students to become leaders in climate action, focusing on implementing the United Nation’s sustainable development goals. The fellows are expected to enact those goals on campus and in the surrounding communities.
Nine Mount students are part of the program, and two — junior Jennifer Puac and sophomore Wantoe Wantoe — led last week’s walkout.
“We are on campus and have at least eight students on campus participating in that program creating projects to help local communities, tackling one of those goals,” Puac said.
While implementing the benchmarks worldwide is a U.N. goal, small-scale programs can advance good environmental practices locally, raising awareness of small changes that anyone can make in their lives. That includes reducing waste, taking public transit, and attending strikes and protests like the climate strike event.
Wantoe and Puac coordinated with The Mount’s student government, administrators and professors to organize the strike, sending letters to professors requesting they excuse their classes for the hour-long event.
In the end, Puac said, four classes joined the strike, alongside clubs and students who had left on their own to attend.
“I asked, ‘Can we start this kind of walkout?’ because here in New York and around the United States, they’re all doing it,” Puac said. “It’s rooted a lot in my own personal experiences. Where hunger came from in my family, and how climate had to do with that.”
Puac’s family is from Guatemala, where thousands of farmers have been hit with high temperatures and droughts she believes are caused by climate change.
“They came to the United States for a better future,” Puac said of her parents.
“Where they were, there was an agrarian society that lacked nutrients, and there was drought. And seven years later, that hasn’t changed.”
Something has got to change, Puac said. “Not just because of my experience, but because more and more people are being affected by it. And with the administration today, unfortunately, the way we handle these issues is just not fair.”
The fellows released a list of recommended actions for the school, including finding ways to minimize single-use plastics, encourage proper waste management on campus, and to plant 50 new trees all over The Mount’s campus each year to offset carbon emissions.
“Those are really good, concrete ideas,” said Carol De Angelo, director of the office of peace, justice, and the integrity of creation for the Sisters of Charity.
"I work a lot with faith-based and environmental groups to raise awareness of the fact that there is a climate crisis and our need to change it — both personally and through exercising our voting and our investments, and working with corporations to try to be more aware.”
The students are working to ensure the impact of the climate strike stays on campus long after the rally. One goal is to support environmentally focused clubs on campus, and to have professors introduce climate change curriculum to their classes.
But what is the best way to ensure The Mount campus stays aware?
“Until we can understand and experience the beauty of God’s creation, experience awe and wonder and beauty, it’s going to be very difficult for us to do that ecological conversion,” De Angelo said. “I’m calling us all for an ecological conversion.”