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Earth Day protest calls for UC, UCLA to take tangible sustainability action

(Shengfeng Chien/Daily Bruin)

By Phoebe Brous and Kate Vedder

April 24, 2022 10:15 p.m.

This post was updated April 27 at 12:38 p.m.

In acknowledgement of Earth Day, students, faculty and activists called for the University of California to transition away from fossil fuels Friday.

Demonstrators began gathering outside Murphy Hall at 11:30 a.m. in support of the UC Green New Deal Coalition’s demands for the electrification of the University’s energy infrastructure and as part of a series of rallies happening across nine UC campuses. The UC Green New Deal Coalition mobilizes individuals and UC organizations to advance environmental justice.

[Related: UC Green New Deal Coalition seeks to promote environmental justice, sustainability]

Ralliers held cardboard signs demanding the UC to divest from oil, electrify buses and end greenwashing. Participants shouted chants including, “No more gas, no more oil, keep your carbon in the soil” and “Fossil fuels have got to go.”

On the morning of the rally, UCLA published its sustainability plan, which includes environmental policies, such as a plan for reaching 100% clean energy.

Chief Sustainability Officer Nurit Katz said the new sustainability plan will work toward creating a pathway to decarbonization, and all purchased electricity at UCLA will come from fully renewable sources by 2025. She added that because of UCLA’s cogeneration plant, the campus has been able to reduce its carbon emissions over the past decades.

“UCLA recognizes the urgency of the climate crisis and is deeply committed to sustainability, receiving national recognition for its efforts,” Katz said.

However, students and faculty at the rally raised concerns about how the university is making sustainability promises that will not be upheld.

“UCLA is a progressive institution, or so they say, and they need to stick to their word,” said Samantha Gazda, a first-year public affairs and sociology student who attended the rally. “They’ve tried to come off as … if they care about their students, but if they truly did, they would prioritize our future.”

The UCLA Climate Action Now organization partnered with the UC Green New Deal Coalition and other organizations such as Sunrise LA Youth and Youth Climate Strike LA, said Rebecca Jean Emigh, an organizer and professor of sociology.

Organizers also coordinated with the UCLA Lab School by inviting elementary students to the rally.

Stett Holbrook, a UC Office of the President spokesperson, said in an emailed statement that the UC welcomes campus Earth Day rallies and supports the environmental protection efforts.

Around noon, the demonstrators moved from Murphy Hall to Bruin Plaza, where faculty and youth climate organizers spoke about the severity of the climate crisis. In addition, there were several recital performances by readymade, a musical group at UCLA.

Bryant Odega, a UCLA alumnus and organizer with the Sunrise Movement LA, said in his speech that Los Angeles has already surpassed the 1.5 degree Celsius benchmark for global warming and is experiencing the environmental consequences through extreme weather, forest fires and droughts.

He said Wilmington, a primarily Latino neighborhood in South LA, is home to the third-largest urban oil field in the country. Air pollution from the plant has contributed to high rates of asthma and cancer within the community, he added. He said residents from communities such as Watts and Ujima Village in South LA have been exposed to decades of fossil fuel contaminants and are experiencing health consequences such as cancer.

Paola Hoffman, a youth climate advocate, spoke about the harmful effects of greenwashing, which is when corporations appear to promote sustainability without making impactful commitments. When companies deflect criticism and capitalize on environmental concerns, they continue to put the burden of solving climate change on the consumer, Hoffman said.

Siena Reale, a member of the political action team at Sunrise LA Youth, said at the rally that UCLA should make more substantive commitments to sustainability.

“We recognize that UCLA is taking efforts to make its campus sustainable,” Reale said. “But it’s only a dent in all the changes that need to be made to make this campus a true leader in the environmental movement.”

Additionally, the rally featured booths at Bruin Plaza from UCLA environmental groups including the Ecological Restoration Association and the International Urban Sustainability Student Corps. Summer Lopez Colorado, a sociology doctoral student, said the booths promoted climate action organizations to encourage students to get involved with activism on campus.

The rally ended around 1 p.m. after participants walked to UCLA’s cogeneration plant, a power plant fueled by fossil fuels, such as natural gas, that releases substantial amounts of methane into the environment.

“This is not just the fight of the decade. This is not just the fight of one generation. This is not just the fight of the century,” said Alison Lipman, a lecturer in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology. “This is the most important fight that humans will join and embark upon in the history of our species.”

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