Article by Noah Henson. Interviews by Thomas Goldstein.
On the afternoon of September 20, throngs of protestors filled the steps of the Capitol, braving the sweltering heat. Among the crowd were high school students from across the city, various environmental groups, and University of Texas (UT) students.
Earlier that day, high school student organizers of Climate Coalition Austin (CCA) held a press conference in the capitol to assert their position. They demanded that the city of Austin completely divest money from the fossil fuel industry by 2030, decommission all Austin Energy natural gas plants by 2020, and close off the Fayette Power Project. The organizers also demanded that the state of Texas eliminate its reliance on renewable energy by 2050 and formulate a climate emergency plan with “real teeth”.
UT graduate Mina Shekarchi representing the Sierra Club was also present at the conference and demanded that Texas Governor Greg Abbott “state that climate change is real and a direct result of human activity”. She also raised concerns about the increasingly severe and frequent storms ravaging Texas’s coastal region, a sentiment echoed by many UT student protesters.
“Houston is flooding right now and the Texas government is doing nothing to ameliorate that,” said Brendan Bradley, a freshman at UT who was interviewed at the protest. When asked about the importance of the climate strike, Bradley emphasized the power of group action in bringing about political change.
“Every change we’ve had in history, whether it was the founding of this country, whether it was abolition, whether it was women’s suffrage… only happened because fifty people got together and started going at it and then it was a hundred and then it was two hundred”, Bradley said. “The biggest threat to our planet is thinking that someone else is going to save it.”
Jenny Matthews, another UT freshman, criticized the Texas government’s climate policy.
“Stop denying science, start listening”, Matthews implored, “this world is going to burn if we don’t do something.”
It is worth noting that since the devastation of Hurricanes Ike and Harvey in 2008 and 2017 respectively, a poll by Climate Nexus Polling found that nearly two-thirds of Texan voters across all parties support government action to address climate change. However, popular support alone may not be enough to bring about the change the strikers are looking for.
Matthews also pointed to the role that corporations play in global warming. “The government needs to keep an eye on those companies. Deregulating them isn’t going to do anything but make them focus on their profits,” she said. “They don’t give a damn about the environment.”
Industrial activity accounts for a significant portion of American emissions, outputting twenty-two percent of the nation’s greenhouse gasses in 2017 according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The process of fighting climate change promises to be long and arduous, but activists are convinced that they can realize their goals through solidarity and persistent action.
”Being able to physically show up at the doorstep of the people who are most capable of addressing this problem is hugely important. I think that every single person that comes out here is building on what we need to do,” said Brendan Bradley.
The crowd seemed to agree, swarming the steps of the Capitol and shouting fervent rallying cries that filled the scorching Texas air.