UC Santa Barbara students, faculty, community members and elected officials gathered for the Sunset Climate Strike on Nov. 5 at Campus Point Beach, protesting what they called an exceedingly sluggish global response to climate change and to stand in solidarity with similar protests around the world.
The event was organized by the Environmental Affairs Board (EAB), Sunrise Movement Santa Barbara, the Society of Fearless Grandmothers Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara County Action Network.
“It’s one of our last chances to really make a difference before everything gets past a point of no return,” Emily Cohen, a second-year environmental studies major and administrative assistant of the EAB, said.
The organizers timed the event to coincide with the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland. At the conference, which was held from Oct. 31 to Nov. 12, 45 countries met to discuss and negotiate their commitments to address climate change.
The summit aimed to hold the rise of average global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. However, negotiations fell short, with participating countries agreeing only to hold temperatures to 2.4 degrees Celsius under the Glasgow Climate Pact. The pact stipulates that the countries will meet again next year to commit to more stringent carbon cuts.
John Foran, a sociology professor in the Environmental Studies Program, said he finds meetings like COP26 a relatively useless means of enacting substantial change.
“I went to five COPs,” he said in a speech. “It’s bewildering at first, and then it just becomes more and more disheartening to see that nothing happens at a COP.”
Foran said that for there to be true change, there have to be grassroots and local efforts made. He pointed to the Eco Vista project — a long-term project that seeks to sustainably and ecologically improve Isla Vista with renewable energy, public gardens, affordable housing and community engagement.
“The leaders — the political and economic elites who’ve brought us this crisis — don’t seem to care one whit about us,” he said. “So let’s build the global climate justice movement together.”
Casey Gallagher, a second-year environmental studies major and member of the Sunrise Movement, echoed Foran’s sentiment.
“We’ve seen global leaders make countless promises to cut methane and deforestation within the decade,” Gallagher said at the strike. “But when will there be actual action?”
Grant Huebner, a first-year political science major and community affairs chair of the EAB, urged rally attendees to take action.
“When politicians’ pockets are lined by coal, we cry, ‘No more,’” Huebner said, leading the crowd into a chant. “When our president falls asleep in Glasgow, we cry, ‘No more.’”
“In no uncertain terms, we stand against nothing less than the apocalypse,” he continued. “March. Petition. Vote. United, we have the power to change the world.”
Joan Hartmann, Santa Barbara County Third District Supervisor, also spoke at the rally, discussing local environmental issues and potential initiatives. She advocated for the decommissioning of various oil wells in Santa Barbara, the adoption of a Green New Deal-like policy and a more sustainable carless future for I.V.
Hartmann also expressed a personal incentive for climate action.
“I’m gonna be a grandmother in January, and we need to make the world better,” she said. “I was a student in Germany, and the young people there — it was their parents and grandparents who let the Nazis come to power. And it created such tension, such shame.”
“I don’t want to be that grandparent, so I’m here with you,” Hartmann continued.
Kat Lane, a third-year environmental studies major and philosophy minor and co-chair of the EAB, said that climate action requires the consideration of racial and economic inequalities.
“A lot of the pollution and waste is disproportionately on lower-income, BIPOC neighborhoods,” Lane said. “The main reason why I’m out here today is just the complete fight for total justice for everyone.”
Following speeches, the attendees gathered together to hold a large pink and blue banner that read, “The sea is rising and so are we,” with their fists raised, their phone flashlights on and the ocean crashing against the shore in the cool fog. The protestors then broke out into a climate song led by one of the members of the Fearless Grandmothers, and afterward, drew out the words “CODE RED” in the sand.
Despite the generally increased advocacy for climate action, attendee Robert Bernstein, Santa Barbara Sierra Club Group transportation chair and visiting scholar at the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences, still sees a long way to go in mitigating and undoing the effects of global warming.
“I’ve been talking about the climate crisis since 1981,” Bernstein said. “So you can imagine how I feel about the fact that nothing has happened in 40 years.”
Bernstein also expressed his cautious optimism that persistent inaction may no longer be the predominant culture around climate policy.
“We are starting to see some movement of people in the streets,” he said. “I think Greta Thunberg was really valuable for somebody coming along and just saying the truth, that what your people are doing is just ‘Blah, blah, blah,’ and it’s just utterly inadequate compared with what has to happen.”
But time is running out, Bernstein said.
“We need people to get out in the streets and demand investing in sustainable energy, sustainable transportation, sustainable agriculture,” he said. “Get up off your asses and do something.”