By Madhava Smullen
Over four million people around the globe walked out of their schools and workplaces on Friday September 20th to demand an end to the age of fossil fuels.
The global climate strikes took place in over 163 countries on all seven continents, and were scheduled ahead of the opening of the United Nations General Assembly and the Climate Action Summit on September 23rd.
The protests were organized by young people around the world who are part of the “Fridays for Future” campaign, including 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg. The campaign has seen students walk out of their schools on Fridays to demand their political leaders take urgent action to address climate change.
Bhaktivedanta Academy Students
Among the protestors in Gainesville, Florida on September 20th were six students aged 9 to 15 (4thto 10th grade) from ISKCON Alachua’s Bhaktivedanta Academy. The group organized their participation themselves in their desire to take action against the exploitation of Mother Earth.
Protesting along with them were a total of 300 people, comprising mainly of youth from local schools and colleges.
“There were adults and children present as well -- the crowd was very diverse, which just confirmed how this issue is a global issue,” says Champakalata Calypso, 15. “It affects everyone!”
Some walked all the way from their homes to the event to reduce their individual carbon footprints; many brandished signs calling out the lack of action on such an urgent issue. From 5pm, a crowd gathered in front of Gainesville City Hall, where strike organizer Anton Kerohan, a 20-year-old UF political science sophomore, led chants of “What do we want?” “Climate action!” “When do we want it?” “Now!”
Among the sixteen speakers at the event were Oliver Chamblin, 15, one of eight young Floridians who sued the state of Florida last year for ignoring environmental issues; and Caroline Pope, a 21-year old UF sociology student, who explained how climate change disproportionately affects women. Gainesville City Commissioner David Arreola, meanwhile, commented that the strike was the largest gathering of youth he had seen ever in front of City Hall.
For their part, the Bhaktivedanta Academy students listened to the speeches intently, responded to the chants with all their hearts, and held up signs they had made themselves reading “Keep the Sea Plastic Free,” “You’re Burning Our Future,” and “If You Don’t Act Like Adults Then We Will.”
“I think this is such a big deal for devotees especially,” says Champakalata. “The earth, Mother Bhumi, is being mistreated to such a horrifying extent, I feel like it’s our duty to respect her and take care of her. She provides so much for us and is one of our seven mothers. We have to take care of her.”
Some devotee youth are very serious about doing their part. “The reason I participated in the Climate Strike is because I think it is very important to stand up for our planet and save the environment from pollution,” says nine-year-old Liliana Danka-DeGasperi. “I personally try to recycle and reuse whatever I can and always pick up the garbage. The theme of my recent birthday party was ‘Go Green!’ We had no plastic whatsoever, the plates and cups were compostable and the forks we used were made out of bamboo. One of the presents I got from my parents was a box of plantable colored pencils, which you can plant once you’re done using them, and trees, tomatoes, or flowers grow out of them. I feel it is important that we all do our best to reduce pollution.”
Sacred Ecology Forum
Meanwhile in New York City, where thousands of people gathered for the climate strike, eight members of the Bhakti Center’s Sacred Ecology Forum participated, ranging from 17 years old to middle-aged.
Among them were Forum co-founders Allegra Lovejoy Wiprud, a graduate student at Yale Divinity School and Yale School of Forestry Environmental Studies; Krishna Kishore Das, a PhD student at Union Theological Seminary, and Gopal-lila Das, Director of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies’ Bhumi Project.
With the Sacred Ecology Forum, the group help educate people about environmental issues, deepen their theological understanding of such issues through the Bhakti tradition, and show them how to bring activism into their workplaces and spiritual lives.
At the Global Climate Strike protests in New York City, they joined many representatives of other faith communities. “We began by offering a little prayer to Krishna beforehand for wisdom, guidance, forbearance and compassion,” says Allegra.
Along with thousands of others, the devotees then convened at Foley Square before marching down Broadway and through the financial district to Battery Park. They had also made their own signs, including “Sacred Ecology Forum Marches for Climate Justice,” and “God Made the Earth Good – What Are We Doing?”
After the march, they participated in a ralley featuring artistic interpretations, prayers, and speeches. Among those addressing the crowd were an indigenous woman from the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, whose community is being threatened with land rights; a member of the New York Nurses Association who has seen the visceral effects of climate change from the frontlines; and teenage activist Greta Thunberg.
“What impressed me most about the event was that over half of the participants seemed to be under the age of eighteen,” says Allegra. “Whole schools were there, parents with their kids… It was very significant, because there’s been a powerful climate movement emerging amongst young people in Europe and the U.S. in the last year.”
Allegra believes that the Global Climate Strike and the wide attention it’s getting will channel more people into groups like 350.org, Climate Action Network, the Sunrise Movement, and Extinction Rebellion, and help them build influence.
The Sacred Ecology Forum are also doing their part. “We’re trying to educate people, encourage them to get involved, and show them the many ways to make a difference – not everyone will be out there protesting,” says Allegra. “We also have monthly programs, and online content.”
Meanwhile it’s clear that the youth, with their inspiring passion, will be leading us in the fight to protect Mother Earth.
“The climate crisis has been a neglected issue for far too long,” fifteen-year-old Champakalata says. “Because the governments in countries with power have failed to realize the urgency of this crisis, we, the newest generation, will have to live with the consequences. In ten years the level of carbon in the atmosphere will reach a peak that will set off a chain of irreversible reactions that will lead to eventual mass extinction. I will be 25 when that peak is reached if we don’t take serious action now. So many of us, the youth, will still have so much of our lives to live, but we won’t get to live them the way our parents did because we will be living through the extinction of the human race. The world needs to take this seriously and take action! We need a New Green Deal and a 100% renewable energy deadline. These strikes raise awareness and show adults that we know what’s going on and change will come whether they like it or not.”
When asked why it’s important that devotees engage with these issues, she adds, “I think that everyone should get involved – it’s everyone’s problem! Yet devotees in particular have a responsibility to promote the mode of goodness in society, and this is a problem clearly being caused because of the absence of goodness. Srila Prabhupada said that before we become Krishna conscious, we must become conscious. Doing your part in solving this climate crisis and spreading awareness is crucial. We need climate change policy reform and we need it now.”