Crowd of 3,000 heard Greta Thunberg speak in Iowa City


Photo by Joe Bolkcom

Tyler Chalfant | October 8th, 2019

Iowa City high school and middle school students were joined by thousands of Iowans at a climate strike on Friday, along with Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. 

The students, who were inspired by Thunberg, have been striking since March to demand that governmental leaders at all levels take action to address climate change. Some of the strikers led the crowd in chants calling out specific leaders and listing their goals, including that the University of Iowa power plant “end coal now.”

The University of Iowa currently aims to fully transition from coal by 2025, with 40% of campus energy coming from renewable sources by 2020. Although the power plant has reduced its use of coal considerably since 2008, it released the equivalent of more than 50,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide in greenhouse gases last year from the burning of coal alone. 

The power plant has replaced coal in part through the increased burning of biomass, it has also increased its use of natural gas by 61% since 2014. Natural gas is cleaner than coal, and releases significantly fewer greenhouse gases than other fossil fuels, but still contributes to global warming through the release of carbon dioxide as well as methane leaks occurring during its extraction and transportation. 

Attendants of the rally spoke of the need for larger, structural changes, in addition to individual action, to address climate change. “Obviously there are things that individuals can do,” Melina Hegelheimer, a first year student studying Ethics and Public Policy at the university said, “but the biggest things that can contribute are coal, farming, and more ethical and more environmentally friendly practices for those types of things.”

A UI senior studying Geographical and Environmental Sustainability Cayla Baldus added that Thunberg’s speech inspired her as a climate activist and geographer. “You don’t fail and stop,” she said, paraphrasing Thunberg, “You fail and you keep going, and that’s kind of what I needed to hear in this political climate.”

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