The Forward on Climate Rally was organized to protest the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and as a response to President Obama’s comments about decreasing climate change during his inaugural address, Zhu said. Participants hoped to express to the president how important the climate movement is to the nation, she said.
The students partnered with the University of Missouri-Columbia, Missouri State University and other Missouri universities through the MO Love Climate Coalition to send about 100 youth representatives to Washington D.C. for the rally, Zhu said.
The trip was led and initiated by students who traveled together to present a “united front of youth in Missouri” for environmental protection, Zhu said.
ECO’s main goal in attending the rally is to bring information about the harm currently being done to the environment back to campus, Zhu said.
To help offset the costs of the trip, ECO members set up several fundraisers during the weeks before the rally, ECO President junior Elizabeth Salley said. They sold grilled cheese sandwiches during weekends to students in the residence halls, hosted a Bellacino’s fundraising night and spoke to faculty and administration about donations. She said the organization received $60 from College Democrats and a sponsorship from Student Senate.
Senior Michael Polwort, Senate Grants and Sponsorships chair, said ECO originally applied for a $1,000 sponsorship, which was tabled by Senate. He said he called an email vote during the week before the rally to secure the final amount of $400 to pay for transportation costs to and from the rally, as well as within Washington D.C.
Polwort said Senate decided to sponsor the trip because it has a surplus of funds senators hope to allocate in meaningful and responsible ways. He said they think student organizations should not have to use funds from personal checking accounts to attend events off campus, and helping with transportation costs is one way Senate can prevent that.
Even with donations, Salley said students attending the rally had to pay between $40 and $60 out of pocket.
Zhu said students attended pre-rally events at the Sierra Club headquarters on Saturday aimed at informing participants about the cause and boosting morale for the rally Sunday. She said members of the MO Love Climate Coalition had a conference Saturday to discuss environmental efforts throughout Missouri and ways Missouri universities can move forward as a united front about the climate issues. Other universities presented climate-related projects, Zhu said.
Sunday morning the students participated in a national youth summit hosted by the Energy Action Coalition, Zhu said. She said protestors also prepared for the rally during Sunday morning.
The Forward on Climate Rally officially started at noon Sunday on the National Mall outside the White House, Zhu said. The rally began with a series of speakers including members of indigenous communities affected by the pipeline and Bill McKibben, founder of the environmental website www.350.org. Reverend Lennox Yearwood, one of the main organizers of the rally, also spoke to protesters.
“It was really powerful to see so many people there in solidarity for this one [cause],” Zhu said. “And it was just so diverse. Anywhere from really young people to really old, every ethnicity and race and socioeconomic status.”
Following the speakers, attendants marched around the National Mall and White House and in front of the Congress building, Zhu said.
“After that it was just sort of a celebration to say ‘Look how we all came together,’” Zhu said.
After the rally, the students returned to Kirksville and began planning how to bring the information and energy of the rally back to the University, Zhu said. She said they hope to launch a mini-campaign about local climate concerns, but it still is in the beginning planning stages.
The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is a proposed pipeline that would be built by TransCanada, an energy infrastructure company, from Alberta, Canada to Steele City, Neb. and will link with other pipelines to connect to the Gulf of Mexico, according to the TransCanada website.
The pipe would transport Canadian crude tar sands oil to Gulf of Mexico ports for it to be exported.
One aspect of the pipeline drawing support from Americans is its potential to create jobs during its construction phase, Zhu said. However, many of those jobs will be temporary and environmentalists don’t think it is worth the risk to the climate, she said.
She said some environmental concerns about the pipeline include potential spills and leakages, air pollution, water pollution and an increase of greenhouse gas emissions. Zhu said this could potentially destroy dozens of ecosystems throughout the Midwest and contaminate water used for drinking and watering farm land.
Geography professor Wolfgang Hoeschele said there is a general consensus within the scientific community that rising levels of carbon dioxide in the air will continue to increase the global temperature. He said the current levels of carbon dioxide emitted throughout the world, largely from burning fossil fuels, will lead to such an increase.
Although he did not go to the rally, Hoeschele said part of the concern surrounding the Keystone pipeline involves the amount of energy necessary to convert the oil from shale form, as it is in the ground, to liquid form that can be used. This conversion process involves large amounts of energy, far more than it takes to procure the already-liquid oil from places such as Saudi Arabia, Hoeschele said.
“Which means that effectively you’re contributing more to the greenhouse effect per mile driven if you first have to invest so much energy in order to get that fuel,” Hoeschele said. “You really get much less ‘bang for your buck’, you might say.”
He said with solar and wind energy becoming more price-competitive to fossil fuels, it is wiser to invest in those cleaner, more sustainable energies.
This year’s Forward on Climate Rally is not the first time ECO has been involved with major activism efforts or the effort against the Keystone XL pipeline, ECO president junior Elizabeth Salley said. Two years ago, ECO students attended the Power Shift event in Washington D.C., which included rallies and workshops, and members attended another pipeline rally last year, she said.
Salley said she wants the community and the campus to understand that the Keystone XL pipeline issue affects them as well.
ECO will share information from the rally with the University and information about the pipeline throughout the next several weeks. Members are planning to speak at meetings for campus organizations and they hope to set up a speaking event to cater to the entire campus, she said.
“Hopefully now we’ve started a lot of conversations,” Salley said.