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ASU students and community leaders call on Congress to act on climate change

The ASU Chapter of Defend Our Future went to the Capitol to voice their concerns


ASU senior Allen Du speaks at a press conference for Defend Our Future at the Capitol in Phoenix, Arizona, on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019.

ASU students held a press conference with community leaders to call on Congress to take immediate action on climate change Wednesday at the Capitol. 

Defend Our Future is a national nonprofit with a chapter at ASU. The state director of the organization, Nick Petrusek said the conference was a plea to Congress. 

“We are gathered here for our act now on climate change press conference,” Petrusek said. “Climate change is a growing issue here in the United States as well as elsewhere in the world — this is a plea to Congress to say we need action immediately.”

Rep. Athena Salman, (D- Tempe) gave an anecdote about visiting her family when she was young to highlight how timeless the problem of climate change is. 

“I remember in middle school, I believe when I was 12 years old going to visit my family in Nevada and seeing how low Lake Mead had dropped — the water that sustains us all in Arizona,” Salman said. “And I remember going back home a couple of weeks later and writing a letter to my friends and family urging people to reduce their water usage, not only for the future of our state, but the future of my generation and generations after me.”

Salman said that while grassroots efforts and voter turn-out are a good first step, the real change needs to come from Congress. 

“It is long overdue, and as long as it breaks my heart that my childhood was marked with having to wonder if there would be water in the future, we are doing this again to another generation and another generation,” she said. “So we see change at the federal level, we see lawmakers and members of Congress continuing  and beginning to address this issue and take it seriously."

Another speaker at the event included Doug Bland, the executive director of Interfaith Power and Light, an organization that is a “spiritual response to climate change.” 

“My own city of Tempe has committed to 100 percent renewable energy, and we are trying to get rid of plastic that fouls our earth,” Bland said. “All we need is for politicians to get the hell out of the way so good people can make right choices.” 

Bland said the participation of young activists and voters is a good sign for the movement and gives hope to future generations.

ASU interns were also among the speakers at the event, imploring members of Congress to take action by pointing out the Trump administration's specific rollbacks. 

Morgan Vellone, a sophomore studying biological sciences, said that she felt like she had no voice before joining Defend Our Future.

“The Trump administration recently announced plans to rollback the mercury and toxic standards, a safeguard put in place in 2011 by the Obama administration that prevents power plants from emitting dangerous levels of mercury and other pollutants into our air,” Vellone said. “Mercury is a threat to us all, but especially pregnant women, children, the elderly and those with asthma and other preexisting conditions. Since Arizona has several coal power plants and we live in a bowl-like valley, the air settles into our communities and our water.”

ASU sustainability and urban planning senior Allen Du said he came into environmental activism in an unconventional way.

“What really made me realize how important the environment is … was a music video by the metal band called Disturbed,” Du said. “The song is called 'Another Way to Die,' and it highlighted the human race's appetite of having more and needing more, and the negligence of the actions and consequences that we have from it.”

Du said the conference's goal was to bring general awareness to the issues. 

“I’d say (the goal is to have) a general consensus, and to bring attention to it and to really talk about how it really is important especially for the future as youth inheriting the world it’s a problem and we want to be able to solve that before it is too late,” Du said.

Laura Dent, executive director of CHISPA Arizona, a program of the League of Conservation Voters, spoke about the particular stress put on the Latino community by climate change, including a higher rate of respiratory problems due to poor air quality. 

Dent and others also called on Congress to take action against two nominations: David Bernhardt for Secretary of the Interior and Andrew Wheeler for EPA administrator.

Vallone closed out the press conference with a direct call on Congress. 

“If we continue to drag our feet my generation will be faced with massive irreversible damage that will seriously impact our quality of life,” she said. “... So to those in Congress who are on our side, we need you to be bold leaders who never relent, and to those who aren’t, it's not too late to get on the right side of history and help us tackle this ... the collective future depends on our ability to seize this moment.” 

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